Novels and albums. Not the same. We can probably all agree on that. As a sort of baggy rule, it usually takes longer to read a book than to listen to an album. Conversely, and for the most part, it’s possible (if you’re that way inclined) you will listen to the same album more times than you will read the same book. Similarly, when you listen to an album you don’t (as a rule) tend to judge each song on their relation to the other songs. You just listen, decide whether or not you like a particular song immediately or file it in the “that one will take a few listens” or reject it out of hand as a bag of balls that just isn’t for you. Novels, on the other hand, as opposed to short stories, you do tend to approach as a consistent whole. Novels are more like maths, usually. You read a chapter (assign it a number), read another chapter (2), and another (+), and another (2) – and eventually you end up with something that tells a story, hopefully, or makes sense in some other abstract way that satisfies you. Novels that don’t fit this neat and tidy grid can be too easily lumped in with all of the novels-that-are-too-hard-for-your-bear-with-a-small-brain. Keith Ridgway’s books (see our review of his previous book, Hawthorn and Child) could be dismissed as tricky. They certainly don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with your usual Waterstones front desk crowd pleasers. That’s why I’ve taken to thinking of Keith Ridgway books as albums.
If you pick up A Shock, his latest book, without all of the trappings of what you might expect from a common or garden novel, you’ll be led into a world in which people know each other, in which things happen to people, in which events echo or ricochet off one another. Although each segment has a different narrator, and there is not what you would call an overarching narrative, there are connections (and echoes and ricochets). The book opens and closes with a party, for instance. In the opening, a neighbour, jolted out of her usual routine by all the noise next door, ends up crawling into her wall; at the end, on the other side of the party wall, we bump into lots of the characters we have met throughout the book, rubbing shoulders with one another. There are two mates, sort of mates, once upon a time mates, the kinds of blokey blokes you’d meet in a Roddy Doyle novel – one of them, Gary, seems to be known by everyone; tother is partnered with Maria, who we meet a couple of times, dealing with her rage. Maria works with a woman who makes up stories who meets a man in the pub who also makes up stories – makes up his own name in fact. Or maybe other people do that for him. One of the stories they tell (about a person getting accidentally locked in a place after closing hours) eventually happens to a bloke called Pigeon. In a separate part of the book. There is a bloke tripping off his tits. There are people who disappear and people who are left behind and people who inhabit the space left by those who have disappeared. There are shocks, as you’d expect. We’ll just pop the word mice here and let you discover that one for yourself.
If you view A Shock like an album, and approach it like an album, and ‘listen’ to it like an album, you’ll have a good old time because the writing is good and the stories are good. If you approach it like I imagine the fusty old sorts who object to racist statues being pulled over would (complaining about books from their day, books that had a beginning a middle and an end, books that made sense, goddamn you), you might end up like a dog chasing its own tail. A Shock is a book that you deal with on its own terms. A book you might actually want to listen to like an album because I suspect it will improve upon repeated plays – a grower and not a shower, if you follow my drift.
Any Cop?: If you read and enjoyed Hawthorn and Child which was, can you believe it, all the way back in 2012, we’re sure you’ll get a big kick out of this.