It is very rare these days that I am blown away by the opening of a book. However, the first chapter of Nicholas Royle’s “An English Guide to Birdwatching” was, I thought, stunning. I was immediately drawing internal parallels with people like Graham Swift – and praise from me doesn’t get much greater than that. I couldn’t wait to read the rest of it…
But then it started to go downhill. I started to lose the plot – almost literally! – with two Nicholas Royles turning up inside the novel; and it began to become something I hadn’t expected, and didn’t really want. Although the writing was still very fine in places, I had become disengaged.
About two-thirds of the way through, the ‘conventional’ story stops, and then we have a number (17) of ‘Hides’… These sections / chapters seemed to be – to me at least – self-indulgent segments of ‘cleverness’. One is just a single sentence; a number of others are less than a page. They were not really part of the narrative in any conventional sense. I assume there are connections to be made between writing / books and all the bird stuff, but I’m not sure. Pushing the boundaries, yes – but one or two I found unreadable, so I didn’t read them.
In the end I have to conclude that the book – after such a tremendously promising start – didn’t work for me. Perhaps it became a little too self-absorbed in its attempts to be ‘clever’.
Or perhaps it exposed the Reader as being too dumb..?!