Wednesday, 15 April 2009

John Niven - The Amateurs (William Heinemann Ltd 2009)

Och, this is a far cry from John Niven's debut, 'Kill Your Friends' a dark satire touted as 'BRITPOP PSYCHO'. It strides into Irvine Welsh territory from the get-go with its sunny-side down Scottish setting, awkward mistimed sex and endless toilet humour told in jarring Glasweigan dialect. That the dialect is written in Glasweigan and the narrative in plain English means having to readjust the ease at which you read it. And it's about golf and those obsessed with it. I don't know much about golf, my only real association with it being Larry David's increasingly bizarre excuses to his wife so he can play it. I don't know the rules, what a birdiebogeyeagleradgeholeinone is. So, not off to a great start.

It works as a Coen Brothers film set in rural Glasweigan suburbs, where characters with strange bizarre ticks and sense of humour all engage in increasingly desperate attempts to wean away their humanity into a type of suburban film noir that is both absurd and disturbing as it could be happening next door, and this is where the easily readable charm lies. Much as Niven strides the Welsh comparison with aplomb on this one, losing the fresh edge he brought to 'Kill Your Friends' glistening with claret viscera, he is funny and his toilet-humour attack on mediocre people and their obsessions is both scathing and funny.

Gary Irvine is married to Pauline who hates his dull obsessions with golf, which he sucks at, and behind his back she's shagging a local business tycoon, who's unhappily married to a woman who he can't divorce as she'll take him to the cleaners, but he went to school with Ranta, the local gangster, who's obsessed with golf but more obsessed with money, and whose son Alec is owed a large amount of cash by Lee, Gary's brother and waster. Somewhere in there we meet Stevie, Alice and Cathy. It's an exhausting coterie of characters who are brought together by increasingly trivial and tidy circumstances that eventually end up in murder, blackmail and a Tourettes ridden hole in one. Gary, despite his awful handicap, is hit by a golf ball moments after he has mastered the perfect golf swing, his muscle memory making him unstoppable to the point where he advances towards professional status, despite his priapic Tourettes outbursts.

There's the gist of the plot. I won't reveal anymore as this crime and golf caper is full of twists, turns and stupid people doing stupid evil mean things to each other in silly scathing funny ways. It's not as fresh as his debut but Niven's settling in for the longhaul and this is definitely readable and fun all the way through, despite the sometimes impenetrable dialects and golf-banter. Fun and frivolous and filthy.

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