Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Pile Jumpers: In Loco Parentis by Nigel Bird.

Mr Bird, I know you are a self-proclaimed "mostly nice guy" and have offered on your blog to send free copies of In Loco Parentis to those who want one, but I'm telling you here, do not give this book away. You've written something special and three bucks is an absolute steal.

The Kindle sample sucked me in right away. It's not the crash-bang action-packed opener I ask of my young screenwriting students. There's no clanking regional patois to suck in my primal pre-linguistic brain, like a riddle that needs answering. Just a conversational tone, a familiar setting seen from the other side of the desk, and a man to take us through it, a lonely and confused thirtysomething primary-school teacher named Joe Campion.

Teacher Noir is a great hook but this story's not really 'about' teaching. Joe does his job with integrity but I wouldn't say it's his vocation, it's just the place he goes every day, a place where he bumps up against bureaucracy and mediocrity, where he gets bitten by stimuli that set him reeling, spinning between homes, between peace and violence, between his laddish drug-loving youth and his crummy, lonely adult existence. Primary school is a great setting for a tale of personal downfall, the innocence of the kids a perfect offset for Joe's hopeless, buried rage.

The highest compliment I can pay In Loco Parentis is that it's instinctively written, and this makes sense because it's also the nature of Joe. He's a study in what happens if you do whatever you feel, whenever you feel it. This is how you shake up your boring life, folks, just put pleasure and the senses first and stuff all the rest.

I agree with the Amazon reviewer who said the manuscript was "stripped bare"; the red pen has been artfully applied and the story is stronger for it. I don't usually care for present tense narration, even less for tense-jumping between past and present, but it was a perfect choice for this book.

I loved the little wisps of paragraph, the short scenes that were woven together so intuitively. In Loco Parentis isn't a 'plotty' book, it's more like poetry (the fluid and easy spoken-word kind, street poetry, not the dense and inaccessible wordgames that fill the ruling-class anthologies). I think that's why it jumped my pile so easily; reading it was like falling into a moving river (yeah, if you've seen that episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive where the father and son are dragged along by their faces under an ice shelf!)

In the final chapters I began to anticipate 'dying like a dog' with Joe, as we did with Kafka's hero in The Trial (Joe Campion, Josef K? Coincidence?) and the feeling of dread was palpable. Mr Bird is a master, though, and every time you think you know where he's going, he listens to his artistic gut and eludes you again, leading you finally, heart in mouth, all the way to the End.

Get this book on or Amazon UK and plonk it right on top of your pile.

Here come the changes.

I know I'm not the only reader with a gigantic, festering, rapidly multiplying To Be Read pile.

Most of us place new books into a queue as we acquire them. If we pay attention, most of us probably already know which ones we'll get to soon and which we'll return to the library unopened--or shove onto a dusty bookshelf--with a guilty pat on the cover and a promise to return in a few months.

There's actually a lot of guilt involved in managing the TBR pile, especially for those who have friends' work waiting in there to be read and recommmended. However, sometimes a book comes along that just grabs you so hard that you forget the pile even exists. You sit down and you read the thing immediately, cover to cover, enjoying every moment.

Wouldn't you like to write that book? I sure as hell would.

I'd like to start a new post series here on the blog, and I'm calling it The Pile Jumpers. Not really reviews as such, just a bit of discussion about the books that have jumped my own TBR pile and a few thoughts as to why.

I'm also starting a post series dedicated to short story eBook collections. It's called Pick Of The Litter, and in it I'll share my thoughts on my favourite, standout short story within each collection. I'll start with the (mostly crime/noir) collections currently living in my Kindle, so that should see us through to summer.

Uh, that's the Southern Hemisphere summer...