Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New in Paperback: Close by Martina Cole

It seems to me that there is almost no chance that North American readers will cotton to Close (Grand Central), UK megaseller Martina Cole’s official U.S. debut. It’s not that Close is bad. In fact, it isn’t. It’s just very, very different.

On this side of the pond, we are used to a certain amount of polish and finish. If we encounter a run-on sentence or a dropped semicolon, we head to a writing forum and bemoan the fact that editors no longer edit. We have a certain -- I’ll just say it -- expectation of gloss. It was one of the things that struck me last year about the much ballyhooed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I remember thinking that book would never have been published in the United States as it was. There were raw edges, sometimes odd jumps. The book was artful -- late author Stieg Larsson was a journalist, after all. But I think a lot of what was good and raw about that book would have been sanded away if it had been published first in the United States.

Now, don’t misunderstand: this is absolutely not meant to be a comparison of the work of Larsson and Cole. In fact, I feel safe in saying there is no planet on which these two should be considered comparable books. Neither of them are American books, certainly. But in very different ways. In fact, were I to compare Cole’s work in Close with anyone at all it would be the films of Guy Ritchie. I wouldn’t even be surprised if someone were to tell me that Ritchie is a fan of Cole’s and admires her work. There is the same sort of breathless abandon in Close that there is in, say, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The same sort of gritty hyper-reality. The England of both Ritchie and Cole has less in common with Austen and Eliot than it does with -- just say -- the moon. Inhale deeply on a summer Saturday evening and you will not smell the English countryside. No flowers, no forest, nothing growing at all. Instead you’ll get the slightly rancid hit from the dodgy chip shop down the way and the pong of the cheap perfume worn by the scantily clad young tarts who are still desperately trying to meet the young men who will ruin their lives.

For both Ritchie and Cole, the London underworld is culture as well as community. Sure, there are cops... somewhere. But, mostly, law enforcement doesn’t figure in: more occasional nuisance -- and perhaps plot device -- than any real threat.

On-screen, however, the lack of cohesion in a Ritchie film comes off as artful, whereas in Close, it sometimes just seems like a mess. I spent a lot of time going backwards, especially at first, before I caught Cole’s rhythm. She jumps us ruthlessly and relentlessly from scene to scene. Quite often the jumps seem pointless. There is no sense of bringing readers carefully to one place so they can then savor the next. Rather, you feel as though Cole simply had enough talking about that bit, and wanted to move onto something else.

Cole is not a writer’s writer. There is little craftsmanship in what she does here and in some ways, that isn’t a criticism. As she moves us through the misspent lives and careers of the Brodie family and those whose lives touch theirs, she spends more time belaboring the contents of their skulls than she ever does the exciting ways in which those contents are sometimes released. If you’ve ever heard that writers should show a thing, not tell it, and you wanted to know exactly what was meant, read Close: I’ve never been told so much all in one go.

All of that said, one never doubts that Cole knows her stuff and, for whatever reason, she seems to understand this world. More importantly for the reader: despite all the things she does “wrong,” Close is a very tough book to put down. Cole is, after all, one of the United Kingdom’s top-selling authors and all 15 of her books to date have been bestsellers. A television adaptation of an earlier novel, The Take, made headlines in the UK earlier this month. With that kind of success, it’s clear Cole is doing something right. I’m just not sure North American audiences will be able to see past Cole’s ham-fisted prose in order to glean what those things are.



Anonymous Tara said...

Thanks Linda, it's good to read a thoughtful opinion on Cole from across the pond. She's very popular over here, interesting she hasn't been published round your way before. I've read a couple of her books and quite liked them, but agree with what you say about the carelessness of her writing. It put me off after a while, along with the repetitive storylines. What you see is what you get I suppose. She had a great character called Maura in a couple of her books (Ladykiller and Maura's Game) but none of her other heroines really match up. I'll be interested to see how her novels fare in the US or Canada. And actually, I think she should ask Guy Ritchie to direct one of her stories because he could inject some more humour into them, which would be a relief from the endless 'unpleasantness'.

Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 10:23:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Julie said...

I have just struggled through about half of Broken, a repetitive and laboured book which gratuitously uses child sexual abuse and prostitution as a "story". Can't read any more! Julie

Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 11:34:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ive just served a prison sentence for speaking out about Martina Cole and her past. and her real life influence that she uses for her so called fiction. Super injunctions are allowing rich people to get away with things that normal people would have been brought to jusctice over.

Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 9:59:00 PM PDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home