Friday, 12 August 2011

'Regicide' - Nicholas Royle (Solaris)

Sometimes a book turns up on the doormat and I just know that I’ll be picking it up sooner rather than later. I’ll bet that you’re the same if you see a book on the shelves somewhere; you just know that you’ve got to check it out...

I’m not going to lie; my reasons for picking up ‘Regicide’ weren’t exactly highbrow at all. There’s a whole world of authors out there whom I’ve never heard of (my fault, not theirs) and Nicholas Royle falls into this category so this wasn’t the reason why the book was picked up so quickly. Nope, this time round not only did the cover art catch my eye but the fact that ‘Regicide’ is only a hundred and eighty eight pages long... that pretty much sealed the deal. I’m a busy guy at the moment and slim books are very appealing for this reason. I miss having the time to read thicker books though...

Anyway, ‘Regicide’ it was then and I polished this one off very quickly. Before you say, it wasn’t just because of the relative brevity of the book. ‘Regicide’ may not handle things perfectly but there’s still an intriguing mystery here waiting to be solved...

Carl has two mysteries to solve in his life. There is the alluring Annie Risk, a lady whom Carl has completely fallen for who doesn’t want to give too much away about herself after having been hurt in a previous relationship. There is also the mysterious fragment of map that Carl finds out side his shop, a map of an unknown town that doesn’t exist in any atlas. Does this town really exist and is there a connection to Annie Risk? Carl thinks so and comes to believe that the map details the town of his dreams, a place where ice skaters turn quintuple loops and trumpeters hit impossibly high notes. This town could be well be the home of Carl’s nightmares though and there’s no way that he’ll find out until he’s trapped there...

‘Regicide’ is a slow burner but give it a chance, before you know it you’ll be just as interested in what is going on for Carl as Carl is himself. You’ll both want to know the answers and the trip you end making is one you’ll make together.

It is a slow burner though; Carl is a character who is difficult to get to grips with, at least initially. There are reasons for this and these become clearer as the book hits its climactic scenes. It turns out that Carl’s inaccessibility is there for a very good reason but that’s not a lot of help though for the readers who are just starting out on their read. Carl doesn’t offer you a lot to engage with and this isn’t a good thing considering the plot doesn’t take a lot of pages to unfold. With a book this length you want to be in the main character’s head straight away and Royle intentionally moves away from this approach, to the detriment of the novel I felt.

Balancing this out though is the air of mystery and menace that permeate the novel as a whole. You can tell that there’s more to Carl’s reticence than meets the eye, his guardedness may be infuriating as far as the flow of the book goes but it’s intriguing nonetheless and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know more.

And what’s going on with that map? Where does it lead to? The hints given are suitably vague, even when they are chasing Carl’s train and trying to force themselves through a carriage window! Bits like this scared the life out me and the great thing is that I had no idea why; I had to keep reading in order to find out. There were some deliciously surreal and terrifying moments in the meantime though and this all added to a grim and slightly foreboding atmosphere.

The big payoff ties everything together very neatly although I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen this approach taken by other novels in the past. No real surprises then but the real joy is in seeing how all the pieces of the jigsaw come together to form the overall picture. Royle doesn’t leave any loose ends hanging around as far as this goes but what he does do is leave us with a pretty big question to be answered in the very last sentence. Everything we now know is thrown into doubt and we are left to deal with it on our own; what a great way to end a novel and make sure that it stays in the reader’s mind afterwards.

A book this length shouldn’t be a slow burner, not if it wants to get its readers on board straight away. ‘Regicide’ does take its time when perhaps it could really do with getting a move on and a deliberately inaccessible main character doesn’t help matters either, at least initially.

If you stick with it though everything will make sense and in the best possible way. ‘Regicide’ becomes a book that you can’t help but keep reading and the way that the eventual payoff comes together is worth the price of entry. And the way it ends, wow... Look out for 'Regicide' in early September.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

2 comments:

Niall Alexander said...

Oh you monster! You totally beat me to this one, by like a day!

Good though, wasn't it? But I dare say Royle's written better. Regicide, as I understand it, was originally written fair ages ago, and only just dusted off for publication now. I'm glad it's become available in any case.

And I'm right there with you on the slim books at the moment, mate!

Carl said...

Good book. I'm in the middle of it now.