Book Review

The Long Take by Robin Robertson

some notes on a gorgeous novel

The Long Take by Robin Robertson is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

The Long Take is a novel [mostly] in verse that was shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize. It’s phenomenal. It’s a treat. You should read it.

The Long Take is haunting, moving, heart-breaking and painful.

The Long Take is serious, intelligent and deeply evocative.

The Long Take is descriptions of places and people, it is poetry of cities and war, it is prose of memory and memorialising, of trauma and regret, of hope and hopelessness, of inevitability and fear, of mortality and psychology and the many ways irrevocable damage can be wrought on a person.

The Long Take is writing of living in denial of ones own decline, of not noticing how we slip slip slip until we have slipped slipped slipped too far to recover.

The Long Take is of slipping and hoping, of feeling like we are moving forwards but really we are moving back.

Walking with eyes closed in water with an immense undertow:
we feel like we move one way, but we move another:
our legs rise and step one in front of the other
but we still find ourselves dragged deeper,
in defiance of our experience,
we continue to sink even when we believe we swim
if we do not look at our surroundings.

We are not isolated, we are never isolated, and our “progress”, if not considered objectively, can be a falling apart.

A coping mechanism can be deeply disruptive and destructive; something that feels like it moves may not move us, but it may move us in a dangerous misdirection.

There is a poignant moment towards the end of The Long Take where Walker, the protagonist, is drinking heavily in a bar and he notices a drunk, old, weathered man staring at him, unsteadily, looking rough as fuck. Walker realises, too late, that he is looking into a mirror, and the reader too realises that the novel has covered almost two decades of a life, a life cut short of hope and freedom by the ravages of [the second world] war and the lack of support offered, given or received to mitigate the alcoholic (or otherwise) self-destruction self-administered by men of Walker’s experience.

In the background is the destruction of Los Angeles as a pedestrian city, the destruction of block after block of residential housing to allow construction of freeway and car park.

The city, American society, responds to war in strange ways: societal paranoia, societal urges towards change and construction, with nothing built for cohesion, for posterity, or for people.

As Walker slowly drinks himself into decline and the other traumatised soldiers he knows drug and fuck and fight themselves, quicker, into decline, the city is destroyed around them. The poor are pushed out, gentrification pushes in.

The McCarthy trials, the black-listing of “Communists” in the film industry happen: Walker, who becomes a journalist, meets and chats to a few directors and screen-writers, and often – on his late-night, solitary walks – will stop and watch the detached narratives he can see as films are made. He cares about cinema, he cares about the city, he cares about other people who are falling through the cracks, too, but who are falling harder and more messily than he is.

Walker’s self-erasure is slow, but it is real: Walker never forgets the war, the horrific violence he saw and the horrific violence he committed. It is all, always, within him.

I think The Long Take might, also, long be within me. It’s a fucking triumph and I heartily recommend it.


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