You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator)

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You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator)

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A taut little horror tale, dressed up in all possible literary finery. For once, you can just ignore all the high-falutin' allusions and references and jump in – it's more than worth it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: June 2017
Publisher: riverrun
ISBN: 9781786484048

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Our narrator is a screenwriter, tasked with coming up with a sequel to his hit movie Besties – a film which helped pay for a house, but which his actress wife keeps letting him know, isn't art. To concentrate, the family – he, the wife, and their four year old daughter – have rented a large, modern house at the end of a horrid, hairpin bend-filled road, in a charming alpine landscape. But things aren't right. The couple are at loggerheads too much, things keep unsettling our narrator, and the sole shopkeeper for miles around is ready with the Hammer Horror styled warnings of strange events. Quickly we see the book's title in all its galling clarity – but it isn't too late to get out… is it? And out of what, exactly?

There are a few things that really put me off a book I think I should be expected to like. First is any quotation from The Wasteland before we start – that's just a no-no, and a rule that will serve any reader well. Second is a comparison to Proust, and third would probably be the words 'experiment in form' – a barbed comment the truth behind which I found decades ago when I was studying. This book, in my proof copy form, commits two of those sins. But dammit it's good.

As far as the experiment in form goes, I think you can shelve that where the sun don't shine – but keep this tiny, tidy volume front and centre. Yes, we don't get a completely straightforward narrative style here. We know neither the narrator's name nor very little else – we don't even realise at the beginning we're seeing his thoughts for the potential screenplay. The text we're reading is what's in his handwritten notebook, which is complete with many unfinished sentences – and they're often left unfinished for perfectly sensible reasons, when you realise what's going on.

What is going on is the perfectly compact playing out of a horror story. Yes, it might all be a metaphor – things are allowed to get a little existentialist, but never to the work's detriment. You can take this as literally as you wish. It's an awkward thing, in my mind, to have the same effect as the twisty, jump cut-filled, FX-laden dark drama of horror cinema on the page, and to allow it to be hand-written by a character living it, as opposed to having the work of an omniscient, uninvolved narrator. Here things work just superbly.

Perhaps I've gone too far to say this is a horror story – certainly, though, that is what I will remember this for, and not as a Proustian 'experiment in form'. I came to the piece knowing very little about it, but these pages are twisty, and really rich, however slight the book seems. Yes, tiny, tidy and compact it is – it's unlikely to take anyone over an hour. But compare that to the closest equivalent I know to this book and that's actually doing a service to the reader, for this forced me to recall the mood the house gave me in House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski, my favourite book ever – and that takes a week to get through. This, to repeat, is over a lot more quickly – but the willies will stay with me for a much longer time.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Straight horror does the 'isolated author in trouble' shtick in Under A Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill too. We've not seen this author at work (or is this play?) since Me and Kaminski in 2009.

Buy You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator) at Amazon.com.


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