‘It knows where it’s heading and works its way there with a spare kind of poise which complements the bleak subject matter’ – The Canal by Lee Rourke

“I started walking to the canal one day out of boredom”. By deciding to walk to the canal one morning instead of walking to work, The Canal’s narrator exchanges one kind of boredom for another. He takes to hanging out on a bench by a stretch of canal in North London, between Hackney and Islington. Soon after settling into his new routine he notices that he’s sharing the bench with a woman, with whom he strikes up an odd kind of rapport. She starts to share random confessions; he starts to obsess over her. He’s attracted to her, even as she reveals the full extent of her horrifying thoughts and actions.
Days go by in this vein. Reflections on the nature of boredom, obsession with details, oddball conversations and confidences. In a less accomplished work this could get boring, but there’s a clear sense of progression as the plot develops. The theme of boredom and its consequences carries through the book, almost to the point of attempting to distil all the idiosyncrasies of the world down to symptoms of society in a crisis of boredom. At the structural level The Canal is extremely satisfying. Ideas develop seamlessly and fluidly. It knows where it’s heading and works its way there with a spare kind of poise which complements the bleak subject matter. Rourke’s use of language is deft and skilful.
On other levels The Canal is strangely unsatisfying. I wanted more answers, but the questions I wanted answering were niggling trivialities (like what’s with the A350s?) rather than ponderings on anything deeper. There’s undoubtedly much to praise here, but I spent slightly too much time trying to second-guess the characters and storyline and not enough time enjoying the writing. After all that thinking I still can’t decide whether to take The Canal on face value, or whether it’s in fact much smarter than I’m giving it credit for.
Any Cop?: Intriguing and readable, with a neat and well-executed construction. Give it a go.

Lucy Chatburn


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