Menage by Ewan Morrison

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Menage by Ewan Morrison

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Sex, drugs That's the life for the threesome at the centre of this messy but endearing novel set in the past and the present.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224084406

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It's 1993. Sherry-obsessed Saul, odd but mostly harmless Owen, and the increasingly dotty modern artist Dot are living together as slumdog millionaires in London. It's a peculiar, rather dysfunctional, unconventional relationship, but it works for them, just about. The months pass in a haze of drug-fuelled misdemeanours, sexual escapades and the creation of artistic masterpieces but as suddenly as it began, it's over again, with the actions of one bringing all three lives crashing to a halt.

Now it's 2008. Dot has left her student days behind and is gaining a reputation as a successful (though still dotty) artist. Owen is an art critic. They meet again, and history comes hurtling back. As they pick up more or less where they left off all those years earlier, there is a clear sense of déjà-vu. Have they learnt anything from the past, or are they doomed to repeat it, drama, drugs, near-death and all?

This is by no means a simple book. For a start, the story jumps erratically back and forth between the two years, and because all the characters are the same, it's sometimes hard to remember where you are. The change in voice (from first person to third and back again) is supposed to be your guide, but this too confused me. Add in some pretentious, though probably realistic, essays on various art pieces in Dot's collection, and you have a patchwork quilt of a book that has knots and holes and unravelling threads rather than a nice smooth hemmed finish.

The trio of characters are certainly, well, characters. They are obscene, extreme, vulgar and depressing. Not the sort of people you would necessarily want to go for a drink with, or have over for dinner, but the kind you like to have in your life just to have stories to tell your real friends. They live a 70s lifestyle in the 90s, fund their champagne lifestyle with lemonade money (and shoplifting), are too busy criticising society to actually try to change it, and exist in a world of cynicism, fake moustaches and transvestism. The line between pill-induced art and pill-induced madness is a fine one, that is often crossed.

I was intrigued by the book because it was so foreign to me. There is a story without any real plot. It doesn't really go anywhere, except round in circles. Maybe that's the whole point. It was much easier to read and keep reading than I'd feared when I started. I wasn't that interested in the story or the characters, what with it being a little too Trainspotting for my liking, but somehow I was engaged by the artful writing. I did like it, but I'd be hard pressed to explain why. I'm not sure I even understand myself.

This is not one for the easily offended, as the language is often rude and frequently crude. There are various bedroom scenes you can tell are written by a bloke (lots of bodily fluids, not a lot of feelings). I wasn't disgusted by these - others might be.

Though I wanted to read to the end, I'm not sure it's one I'd want to re-read. Now I know what happens in the end (i.e. not all that much) my curiosity is satisfied. I may be misjudging it though, as I do wonder whether this is one of those books whose meaning only really hits you a few days afterwards. Or, as in the case in the book, a good fifteen years later.

Thanks go to the publishers for sending us this book.

For a look at a different artist with an unorthodox life, you might consider Patrick Gale's Notes From An Exhibition.

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