Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gently Down the Stream by Ray Robertson

I recently read Gently Down the Stream by Ray Robertson, a very fine author in my humble opinion. Had I stumbled upon such a novel and read the jacket I wouldn't have bought it, having little interest these days in such a plain literary plot *. But having met Ray once and having enjoyed the very brief conversation and especially his intelligent sense of humour, I sought this out on purpose and even paid full price for it.

I intended to add it to the "A-queue" and read it within a few months (annually I buy close to 400 books and read about 60! - I have a rather involved tiered system of cataloguing them for eventual reading or dust-gathering).

However I fell to temptation and sneak-previewed the first page immediately and by it, was enticed on to the second. By then I was hooked. A successful 'text-book' marketing implementation. Kudos!

I read almost half the book that evening before regretfully putting it down and going to sleep as I had a client commitment in the morning and dared not show up on the heels of an all-nighter looking like Barney from The Simpsons.

To that point I'd naively judged my enthrallment with the book to be simply a guilty pleasure. I had laughed out loud - and hard - every few pages and was amused by the extent of things the hero and I had in common. We were men of the same era, locale and background and shared personality traits and flaws and pet peeves. I'd never experienced such a connection before. The lion's share of books I've read are by English and American writers, by the way.

As much as I abhor conversation around an author's work being memoir versus fiction and always assume bull-headedly that all is fiction (all is both, by the way, inevitably but later for that), I could not deny the correlations here. The hero, Hank Roberts shares much the same background and career milestones as the author, besides a name of the same ilk.

It was early on the second evening (I would finish the novel later that night) that I suddenly allowed all the hints to sink in. When I realized that not all was right with the hero - the character who seemed to be just like me, I thought,
'Ouch! What does that say about me then?'

Later I would meet Ray a second time and, managing not to gush and blubber too much, tell him of this observation - that half-way through the book I realized that all was not well with the hero. And he said, "Ouch! What does that say about me?" Sound familiar? Creepy, eh? I wonder if Robertson is actually me - reincarnated and then come back in time so that we're co-existing. Don't laugh. It could happen.

Anyway - regarding this moment of realization: I was shocked at how worried I suddenly became for this character. How involved I'd become. How much Robertson had drawn me into his world and captured my dedicated empathy without my awareness.

He's a great writer, I say. Because he employs just the perfect degree of subtlety that keeps the reader constantly engaged. At least he did so in this book. I shall next sample an earlier work of his called Home Movies.

A note on this whole ‘shared experience’ thing - between the hero and I; on the second day it broadened into something less a novelty and of more meaning. For the first time in my life I felt a belonging to my generation. A shared identity. You hear and read about the hippies of the 70's and other generation-based communities and are maybe a little in awe that they had something special. And I suppose they did but now I know that for better or worse, I'm part of something too and it's just as real! It's a powerful feeling. I like it.

*disclaimer -- I have nothing against literary books! It's just that I read a lot of that for a long time and now prefer novels of heroic adventure/fantasy so I can keep an eye on the competition!


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