Even committed literary snobs like myself need a break from time to time, so in order to cleanse my palette before reading two brand new books that I’m incredibly excited about*, I thought I would relax with a trashy, comic, detective thriller set in a Welsh coastal resort: From Aberystwyth With Love by Malcolm Pryce.
Many years ago I used to live in Wales, and during that time I would regularly be given “Wales-related” gifts at birthdays and Christmases by family members who thought that kind of thing was funny. This was one of them. As a twelve or thirteen year old I had read and enjoyed Malcolm Pryce’s first novel, Aberystwyth Mon Amour, which opens the series that this is the fourth or fifth book within. So I wasn’t that annoyed. But did take five years to get round to reading it…
The set up for the whole series is thus: 1980s/1990s Aberystwyth is over-run by criminals (both of the petty and the mastermindy variety), druids, witches (though I think more of the Wicca than the Harry Potter type), rumours, ice cream and liquor. It’s very silly and very overblown. But often very funny.
I’ve read enough Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming and John le Carré to understand what is being satirised – the seriousness of thrillers, for instead of the billionaire media tycoon, there is the man who owns the rock factory; instead of the sage-bartender there is the philosopher-ice cream seller; instead of the glamorous foreign locales there is a brief trip to a Welsh colony in Soviet-era Ukraine; instead of the psychiatric ward for the criminally insane, there’s Shrewsbury jail…
It’s a comedy, and it’s light and it’s silly, but it’s fun. It plays with its form and the ideas and the expectations of that form, and that’s why I’m happy to give it the time to read it. If you like detective thrillers, or thrillery-thrillers, and want a satire of that kind of thing to chuckle over, I would recommend it.
But it’s not literature – and nor does it claim to be – for though it is fun, it’s absolutely nothing more. I’d contrast this with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which is fun and gripping and exciting (more than this, actually), but is similarly nothing deeper. So while this is less exciting and less well-written than The Goldfinch, it does (at the very least) describe itself in a more honest and accurate way.
It’s fun and it’s silly. Which sometimes is exactly what I want from a book. Yeah!
*Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard (published in March) and Another Great Day At Sea by Geoff Dyer (published next week by Visual Editions).