Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Patterson can't quite make me forget I'm reading a novel

I’ve been reading Glenn Patterson’s ‘Number 5’ recently. It is a book which examines social and political changes in Belfast through the eyes of successive inhabitants of a house built during the 1950s housing boom.

‘Number 5’ is written in unfussy fashion, it is frequently funny and it provides a convincing portrait of Belfast and its inhabitants. Patterson has chosen a cunning device through which to exhibit his skills and examine compelling themes.

It is exactly this clever narrative structure, though, that irks me slightly about the novel and it is indicative of something which, in my eyes, prevents Patterson from quite making the top rank of novelists.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this book, and I like Patterson as a writer. But there is something just a little self-conscious, a little invasive about his writing.

Reading ‘Number 5’, or ‘The International’, I keep thinking, ‘oh that’s clever’, ‘that’s a nice idea’. I cannot forget that I’m reading a novel. Patterson builds a perfectly serviceable and rather pleasing edifice, but he never quite manages to make the scaffolding disappear.

I believe that the novelist learned his trade studying for a Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Perhaps that academic background is what makes his books seem a little planned, a little too self-consciously ‘novelly’.


Aidan said...

I've read all of his novels except the latest "The Third Party" and I can see where you are coming from to an extent.
His first novel "Burning Your Own" is a wee cracker, the blurb from The Listener "One of the finest novels of this or any year" was not exaggerating. Unfortunately I don't think he has ever made it back to those heights. "Fat Lad" was forgetable, I liked "Big Thunder Mountain" but it was no classic, "The International" and "Number Five" were both good but just missing the punch that might make them something more. "That Which Was" was very good in my opinion and I think that he is getting there. Maybe it is just impossible to equal the heights of his first novel.
If you haven't read it I would recommend "Eureka Street" by Robert McLiam Wilson, the best novel I have ever read set in Belfast.


Aidan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chekov said...

It's been a book I've meant to read aidan. I'll have to get a copy.