Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
This short 2004 novel by Liz Jensen doesn't immediately present itself as a thriller, but midway through, the tension between what the characters understand and what the events describe have created a kind of horrific suspense that creeps up on one.

One of the reasons I like this book is that it's reworking the ambiguities of the Fantastic in a complex, modern fashion. That is to say, it presents multiple self-deluding narrators who take their realities as reality. And, in the best tradition of the Fantastic, the self-delusions can be understood within the context of broader cultural delusions.

There are two narrators in this novel. One is Louis Drax, the "accident-prone," preternaturally intelligent, self-described "disturbed child" central character. He is nine going on ten. This voice is astonishingly well-represented. Jensen manages to capture an intelligent child's partial understanding of the dynamics between the adults who control his life--along with the perhaps inevitable over-interpretation of that understanding. I particularly like how Jensen uses the usual tropes of "smart boys"--fascination with sharks and bats, for example--as vehicles for Louis's repressed emotions. Part of the suspense involves the morally ambiguous nature of the "accident-prone" Louis: malicious but innocent, or adored but evil?

The other narrator is Dr. Dannachet, the neurologist working in an hospice specializing in long-term coma patients, who becomes involved with the unconscious Louis Drax and his beautiful, suffering mother. Here, Jensen may have sacrificed some drama to realism: Dr. Dannachet's obsessions and weaknesses seem--to this weak obesessive--rather too easily overcome. His emotional ambivalences get a few paragraphs, but then he goes to work and reports to the police the new information he learns. However, the costs of his involvement aren't underplayed: the new emotional arrangements after the novel's events are presented as extremely fragile and contingent.

This is a clever book, and it addresses indirectly several very hot political questions (adoption and persistent vegetative syndrome, to name the least plot-giving-away). It's also a quick read.


Post a Comment

<< Home