Saturday, 7 July 2012

Review - Abattoir Jack by Christopher Neilan

You’ve probably never heard of this book so I’ll borrow a quick summary from the blurb at the back…

At the age of 22, Jack is going nowhere. Stuck in a New Mexico backwater, slicing dead cattle for a living, he is ready to seize any opportunity to make something of his life. So when his workmate Ed tells him about the $25,000 stashed in a bus station locker in San Francisco, and when he meets and falls for the beautiful De S'anna, a sweet Italian supernova of sweat and lips and purple-black hair, the two events propel him into a journey of love, drugs, madness and determination as he tries to make real those two seductive mirages, the accidental fortune and the perfect love.

Abattoir Jack came out in 2010 on the same publisher as my own novel English Slacker (Punked Books). In fact, it was the main reason why I was drawn to this publisher in the first place.

It’s quite a short book, beginning with an absolutely awesome piece of writing about working in a meat cutting factory in the New Mexico desert (“just one dusty road leading back to the little spithole row of houses and bars”), living in a motel and wasting day after day, mostly by getting through a fair amount of vodka. The writing is stylistic and original. Christopher Neilan was barely in his twenties when he wrote this, but he shows the skill and maturity that a lot of older authors would kill for.

Then, suddenly the girl De S'anna enters the scene and it all turns at little too much like On the Road meets Natural Born Killers meets Thelma and Louise. It’s as if Neilan is trying too hard to fit in his favourite influences rather than relying on his own original ideas. Finally in the last third of the book, certain events cause the protagonist to turn melancholy and what we get is Raymond Chandler on acid, speed, coke, or all three.

For me this book showed a lot of promise but by the end of it I was thus, slightly disappointed with how it turned out. However, I would still highly recommend it as being an exciting and quite a unique read as a whole.

Frustratingly, like all the books in these indie reviews, it’s not likely you’ll see it on the shelf in your local bookshop. (Although it’s easy enough to order.) Also frustratingly, Neilan has so far yet to provide us with another novel to get our teeth into. A shame, since this debut shows a lot of potential.

(If you’d like to read an interview with Neilan see the interviews page at the top of the screen)

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