Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Power Play by Gavin Esler


The good thing about listening to books on tape is that no matter how godawful the book is, you can generally push through to the end.  Unless it's the Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, which unaccountably won the Booker Prize, and even more unaccountably is supposed to be a 'comic novel.'

I doubt Power Play's won any literary awards, and it is rubbish - but at least it's readable enough.  Listenable, anyway.  The hero is the British ambassador to the USA.  There's a very powerful and hawkish Vice President who needs to be massaged by the British.  They take him on a grouse shoot in Aberdeenshire, where he vanishes.  Cue pandemonium.

A pretty nice set up then - lots of potential.  Missing VP on British soil!  What's happened to him?  Kidnapped by jihadists?  Gone nuts?  Is it all a set up to justify another war?

Except the book fails utterly.  Problem one is this Vice President is clearly just Dick Cheney, with maybe a touch of Rumsfeld thrown in.  He even has a tendency to accidently shoot his friends on hunting trips!  A few years on, and we've got nice cuddly Obama pouring over his kill list and no-one bats an eye.  A carbon copy Cheney already seems cheap, trite and old hat.  Here's a theory - Esler's a journalist, and journalists don't have any imagination.  We report what we see, and maybe twist it a bit.  Don't ask us to write a novel.

But that's not the big problem.  Here's the story:  the VP disappears.  Then tapes of him getting Abu Graibed are released on the internet - exciting!  Then he's found chained up naked on a beach on Norfolk, driven half mad.  This is where the big SPOILER comes in. We never find out what happened to him...

Aha!!!  Did you see what he did there?  Not everything's got an answer - not everything comes with all the loose ends tied up in a bow - the world's complicated etc etc etc.   Absolutely unforgiveable, and Esler's editor should probably be sent to Abu Graib for not sitting him down and saying - yes, very clever.  Now stop mucking about and finish the novel.

Just a couple of final quibbles.  Uncomfortable softcore BDSM.  No.  And I'd like to draw attention to one scene which only makes sense if the author was doing it as a bet.  The ambassador makes a speech where we've been expressly told Mike Myers is in the audience.  A fairly feeble joke is made (though I think it's supposed to be witty) and Myers says "groovy baby" to the room.  In, and I quote "his best Austin Powers accent."

This makes no sense whatsoever in the context of scene, or in the book as a whole.  Is this the kind of thing Mike Myers would do?  Neither Myers nor Austin Powers had been referenced in the speech, I should point out.  That would make some kind of sense.

This scene really, really bothers me and I've been trying to figure it out ever since.  I've actually found it online here so if anyone can figure out what's going please let me know.  Start on page 81.  Thanks in advance.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, re-reading that section it doesn't really make much sense...

Anyway, you used to like all that open ended shit, and it was me that required a beginning, middle and end. You've changed.

- bryce

Joe said...

Since we've been discussing it - Fincher's Zodiac. That ends without really knowing who did it, but that IS the story. It does make a difference if it's a true story, and it matters how much skill and thought's been put into it.. This is a trashy political thriller, and I demand a real story, damnit!

Ed said...

Is it any more than a bit of ham-fisted cultural referencing? I wouldn't read much into that.

I don't think open-endedness should necessarily be restricted to true stories. Most Lynch films are open-ended but it doesn't stop them being ace (if you're a Lynch fan). It just doesn't work when it's transparent laziness, which is what it sounds like here.

Joe said...

Power Play was released in 2009 - twelve years after the first Austin Powers film, and seven years after the final one. If this had been written in the late nineties, I'd agree it was just a hamfisted cultural reference. But in 2009? What's going on?

Thought of another great unresolved movie - Picnic at Hanging Rock. But again, true story.

Anonymous said...

The Vanishing (original) is my fave openended (ish) movie.

- bryce

Joe said...

He gets buried alive at the end. Spoiler. That's the very definition of a closed ending!

What made it really annoying in Power Play is that none of the explanations would've really made sense, not without a bit of skill anyway. I suspect the author just lost his bottle and couldn't think of how to tie it up.