From a rising British novelist, an artful meditation on love and life in contemporary London
When David Pinner introduces his former teacher, the American artist Ruth Marks, to his friend and flatmate James Glover, he unwittingly sets in place a love triangle loaded with tension, guilt, and heartbreak. As David plays reluctant witness (and more) to James and Ruth's escalating love affair, he must come to terms with his own blighted emotional life. Set in the London art scene awash with new money and intellectual pretension, in the sleek galleries and posh restaurants of a Britannia resurgent with cultural and economic power, Nick Laird's insightful and drolly satirical novel vividly portrays three people whose world gradually fractures along the ineluctable fault lines of desire, truth, deceit, and jealousy. With wit, compassion, and acuity, Laird explores the very nature of contemporary romance-"The Death of Love in Modern Culture," as David puts it in one of his dyspeptic blog posts-among damaged souls whose hearts and heads never quite line up long enough for them to achieve true happiness.
|Publisher:||Penguin Group (USA)|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||17 Years|
About the Author
Nick Laird was born in Northern Ireland in 1975 and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. He is the author of two collections of poetry and the acclaimed novel Utterly Monkey. He currently teaches creative writing at Columbia University in New York.
Read an Excerpt
At the kitchen table he’d turned a page of Time Out and there was her face. He’d been so shocked that he’d started to laugh. She was still beautiful – though squinting slightly as if she’d just removed a pair of glasses. Did she need glasses now too? He snipped out the inch-long update with nail scissors, folded it and filed it in his wallet. The exhibition, ‘Us and the US’, featured several British and American female artists, and it opened in three days.
When he reached the drinks table and lifted a plastic tumbler of wine, he noticed, with unexpected anger, how the suits had real champagne glasses. Money grants its owners a kind of armour, and this crowd shone with it. They were delighted and loud, and somewhere among them was Ruth. He headed towards her work and hovered.
She did look good; older, of course, and the hair now unnaturally blonde. Her nose was still a little pointed, oddly fleshless, and its bridge as straight and thin as the ridge of a sand dune; one lit slope, the other shaded. A tall man in a chalk-stripe suit held forth as she twisted the stem of her empty glass between forefinger and thumb. Her unhappy glance slid round the group. As one of the men whispered into her ear she turned away, and her eyes had the same cast as in the lecture hall, when she would gaze longingly over the heads of the students towards the exit.
‘Hello, oh excuse me, I’m sorry, Ruth, hi.’
David used one elbow to open a gap between the speaker and Ruth, and then slotted himself neatly into it.
‘Hello.’ The voice was lower than David would have guessed but instantly familiar. She still dressed in black but the materials had been upgraded. A pilous cashmere wrap, a fitted silk blouse.
‘You taught me at Goldsmiths, a long time ago now.’ He was staring too intently and looked down at her glass.
‘Oh, sorry. Of course, yes. What’s your name again?’
She presented her hand and David shook it firmly. He said there was no reason she’d remember him, but she repeated the name, making an American performance of the syllables: Dav-id Pin-ner. The three men had regrouped, and Chalk-stripe was still mid-anecdote. Ruth touched David’s hand for the second time.
‘Shall we find a drink?’
The queue was five-deep around the table. David knew he should stand in line for both of them, letting Ruth wait at some distance from the ungentle shoving, but to do so would be to lose her immediately to some suit or fan or journalist. Then Ruth stopped a waitress walking past, a black girl with a lip ring carrying a tray of prawns on Communion wafers.
‘Can I be really brazen and ask you for some wine? Would that be okay?’
She appraised them: David left her unconvinced, but Ruth, five foot five of effortless poise, carried them both easily. The wealthy expect and expect, and are not disappointed. When the waitress smiled in confirmation, her lip ring tightened disagreeably against her lower lip and David had to look away.
‘If you just let me get rid of these . . .’
He was nervous, and kept pushing prawn hors d’oeuvres into his mouth before the present incumbents were swallowed. Ruth picked a white thread from her shawl and said, ‘But what do you do now? Oh, I’ve lost your name again. I’m just terrible with names. I forget my daughter’s sometimes.’
David, chewing furiously, pointed at his mouth.
‘Of course . . . God, Goldsmiths.’
She said it dramatically, naming a battle they’d fought in together. After swallowing, David repeated his name and said he was a writer. This was not particularly true, at least not outside his private feeling.
‘Huh. So I managed to put you off art. Or maybe you write about it? Is this research?’
David thought she was very gently making fun of him. ‘No, I teach mainly, though I have reviewed—’
She shifted register and dipped her head towards him. ‘Look, I’m sorry for sweeping you off back there. The baby brother of my ex-husband had decided to explain to me how exactly I’d fucked up his life.’
‘God, I’m sure you could do without that.’
The immediacy, the easy intimacy, was surprising, and it had startled him to hear himself repeating God in the same dramatic way she’d said it. Did she mean she’d fucked up the ex-husband’s life or the ex-husband’s brother’s? He could imagine how she might unmoor a man’s existence.
‘You don’t have a cigarette, do you?’
‘Oh, I don’t think you’re allowed to smoke in here.’
‘They won’t mind. They’re all very . . . Ah, here we are. Darling, you’re an angel. A punk-rock angel.’
The ‘punk-rock’, David thought, showed Ruth’s age.
‘It was kind of you to come and see the exhibition, you know. I managed to lose touch with everyone I knew at Goldsmiths.’ Her dark eyes cast about the room.David waited for them to settle on him and they did. ‘It was a very difficult time for me . . . coming out of one thing, moving into another . . . Maybe you heard about it.’ David pursed his lips and nodded. He had no idea what she was talking about. Her tongue was very pink and pointed. ‘For so many years London was somewhere I just couldn’t come to, and now I’ve taken this residency here for a whole . . . Oh, stand there for a second. I don’t want to have to deal with Walter yet.’
Ruth edged David a few inches to the left.
‘Who am I hiding you from?’
‘Oh no, I’m not really hiding. He’s a friend. Walter. The Collector.’
‘Oh, it is.’ She swept her wine glass in a small circle for emphasis.
‘When Walter buys you, you know you’re in demand. And he keeps on buying you until your price is high enough and then he dumps your stock and floods the market. Or’ – the glass stopped in its circuit – ‘until you die, and then he plays the investors, drip-feeding your pieces to the auctioneer.’
‘A bit like a banker.’
‘He used to be. I think he still owns a couple.’
David glanced around the room. He wanted to see him now. He needed to get a good look at the sort of man who owned a bank or two. Instead he noticed the grey-haired man in the chalk-stripe approaching them. Hurriedly he asked, ‘So are you based in New York?’
‘Ah, there you are. Richard Anderson’s looking for you.’
‘He’s doing a special on young new artists.’
‘I’m neither young nor new, Larry . . . this is David, an old student of mine.’
‘It’s very nice to meet you.’ David was anticipating nothing, so the warmth, when it came, felt considerable. The man looked like a perfect lawyer, clean edges, something moral in his smile.
‘Larry, where exactly is the club you were talking about?’
‘Oh, it’s just off St Martin’s Lane. The Blue Door. Do you know it?’
He looked expectantly at David, who rubbed a finger on the tip of one eyebrow and pretended to think. ‘The Blue Door? I’m not sure.’
Ruth placed two fingers on David’s arm – he felt it in his gut – and said, ‘We’re going on there later if you wanted to come. There’ll be a few of us. David’s a writer.’
Chalk-stripe’s interest had already passed. He glanced at his expensive watch and was all business.
‘Hmmmm, what time is it now? Half-eight. We’re probably heading over in, what, half an hour? Forty minutes?’
That night her exhibit was a sheet of black papyrus, four or five metres wide, that hung from floor to ceiling in the last room. Up close, its homogeneous black grew to shades of charcoal and slate and ink and soot, and its smooth appearance resolved into the flecked composition of chipboard. Its surface was wounded in a thousand different ways: minute shapes were pricked and sliced and nicked in it. There were Ordnance Survey symbols – a church, crossed axes – but also a crown, a dagger, a mountain, a star, miniature semaphore flags. And tiny objects – all silver – dangled or poked through it: safety pins, bracelet charms, an earring, a pin, what must be a silver filling. The man beside David pointed to the largest object, low down in the astral canopy, and said he was sure that the St Christopher medal, just there, must represent the Pole Star.
The gallery lights at that end of the room had been dimmed, and the work, Night Sky (Ambiguous Heavens), hung a foot away from the wall. Fluorescent strip lights had been placed behind it and shone through the fissures in the paper. As it wafted gently in the convection currents, breathing, it made a far-off tinkling sound. The conversation with Ruth had left him charged. He wanted to be affected, to give himself up to something, and standing a certain distance from the black, and being a little drunk, he felt engulfed. This was Ptolemaic night, endless celestial depths of which he was the core and the centre. Everyone around him disappeared, and he imagined himself about to step into the dream stupor of outer space.
David watched, he drank, he waited. He spent some time in front of a massive LCD sign that took up an entire wall of the gallery. As he watched, a single number rose astonishingly quickly, in millisecond increments. His heart sped. Death may be hidden in clocks, but this was a kind of murder. After a minute or so he felt hunted and light-headed. Every instant added to the total on the sign came directly from his reckoning. And a certain sequence of those digits was the moment of his death.
He slipped out for a cigarette, but at nine o’clock he was Ruth’s guardian angel, floating a few feet behind her as she said her goodbyes. When they climbed the steps to Waterloo Road, Larry strode energetically to the central island to hail a passing cab. You could tell he was born to hold doors and fill glasses, Larry, to organize, facilitate, enable.
The view from the bridge was spectacular. The restive black river, slicing through the city, granted new perspectives. The buildings on the other side were Lego-sized, those far squiggles trees on the Embankment walk. Even though Larry and the taxi driver were waiting, Ruth stopped for a second to inspect the night, and stood gripping the rail. The normal sense of being in a London street, of trailing along a canyon floor, was replaced by the thrill of horizons. The sky was granted a depth of field by satellites, a few sparse stars, aircraft sinking into Heathrow. Larry and Ruth talked for the length of the journey as David roosted awkwardly on a flip-down seat. Ruth’s piece had been bought before the opening – by Walter – though Larry had retained rights to show it. When the gallery owner opened his notebook to check a date, David noticed that $950k was scrawled by the words Night Sky. He listened to everything very intently.
Away from the public crowded gallery, a new, personalized part of the evening was actually beginning. Somehow there were only three of them, and he felt nervous. When the cab pulled up he tried to pay for part of the fare, but Larry dismissed him with a rather mean laugh that took the good, David thought, out of his gesture. The club was situated down a narrow alley and behind a blue door that appeared abruptly in the wall. David hurried through as if it might vanish.
Larry flirted with the girl on reception, signed them in. They followed him through a warren of low-ceilinged, wood-panelled rooms. Each had a tangle of flames a-sway in a grate and much too much furniture. And each was full of people in various modes of perch and collapse, laughing and squealing and whispering, demanding ashtrays, olives, cranberry juice with no ice. As he trailed after, David adopted a weary expression: if anyone should look at him they would never know how foreign he felt, how exposed and awkward.
Larry spotted a spare corner table and charitably chose the three-legged stool, leaving David the rustic carver. Ruth settled into the huge winged armchair, arranging her black shawl around her. David realized he’d been unconsciously pushing his nails into his palms, leaving little red falciform marks, and he stopped, forcing his hands flat on his thighs. He normally spent the evenings on the internet, chatting on a forum, but that night he was an urban cultural participant, engaged with the world, abroad in the dark.
‘So what did you guys think of the exhibition?’ Ruth asked. This was his chance and David began talking immediately. He had given it much thought and started listing pieces and their attendant strengths and problems, then discoursing generally on the difficulty of such an undertaking, the element of overlap and competition with other artists, what the curator should have considered doing differently. Ruth was smiling, but the more he talked, the more solid her mask became. When she nodded in
anticipation of saying something, David concluded, snatching his cigarettes with a flourish from the tabletop, ‘But I would say – and I know this sounds a little crawly – but I thought your piece was the most involving. I felt drawn into examining the nature of darkness, how it’s actually composed.’
He found he was sitting forward, almost doubled over, and he straightened up. Ruth smiled and said, ‘Crawly?’ but he could tell he’d talked too much. Larry had a bored, paternal grin on his face, and he waved his hand, dispelling some disagreeable odour. The waitress slouched across.
When Ruth made some slightly barbed reference to pure commercialism, David sensed a chink between them and tried to widen it. He waited ten minutes and then asked about money, about how art could ever really survive it. Larry grimaced, and explained that art and money were conjoined twins, the kind that share too many vital organs ever to be separated. Ruth balanced her chin on her small fist and flicked her gaze from her old friend to the new. David said that sometimes the most private, secretive art is the strongest. It had to relinquish the market to be truly free. Surely Larry wasn’t saying that Cubism started with the rate of interest on Picasso’s mortgage.
Larry frowned, forced to detonate David’s dreams. ‘Well, the fact is, not everyone’s Picasso.’
‘I think Larry’s trying to tell you that minor artists, like me, need to make saleable products. Is that it, darling?’
‘You’re certainly not minor.’
‘I’m certainly not a minor.’
Larry gave a loud guffaw and patted the back of her hand. Ruth ignored him and lifted David’s cigarettes; he passed her the lighter and she drew one out of the packet, pinching it in half to break it in a neat, proficient movement. She noticed David noticing.
‘Can’t stop, can only downsize.’
Watching her, David found himself reminded of the finitude of earthly resources. She expected, and the taking was so heedless she had obviously acclimatized to prosperity at an early age. When the time had come for her to order a drink she’d spoken quickly, astonishingly, in a volley of Italian. The reluctant waitress had beamed, revealing one deep dimple, and replied in the same ribboning cadences. Later, when David leant across and told Ruth how much he liked her charcoal-coloured wrap, she said, ‘Well, that’s really something. It’s a bit Raggedy-Ann now, but you know who used to own it? Audrey Hepburn. She was a great friend of my mother’s.’
Men who own banks and Audrey Hepburn. A sheet of black paper for one million dollars. David lifted the edge of the shawl then, and pressed his thumb in the cashmere. It was soft as baby hair, as kitten fur. He thought of the symbolism of the act, touching the hem of her garment. He had a terrible tendency to think in symbols. He knew it made him unrealistic.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With the sheer number of stories that have been built upon the love triangle premise, it's a testament to Nick Laird's talent that Glover's Mistake manages to avoid any sense of staleness and pack such a strong thematic and emotional punch. Much of its success stems from the use of well-drawn characters. Ruth Marks is more than your average cougar; this thirty-seven-year old modern artist (and sometimes lesbian) combines a world-weariness with a latent romanticism in a package that's convincingly attractive to men of all ages. This cougar's prey is James Glover, a hunky bartender whose religious devotion and youthful weight problem allow us to believe his virginity has entered the relationship intact. And caught in the middle is Glover's flatmate David Pinner, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher whose romantic intentions toward Ruth are hampered by his balding, overweight appearance. As David comes to realize that Ruth has eyes only for young Glover, he turns toward all manner of devious tricks to drive the two apart. Witnessing David's metamorphosis from a hapless Charlie Brown into a full-blown Iago, and the rationalizations he employs to convince himself that his actions are somehow less evil than they appear, really get under your skin and allow the author to tease out some powerful themes about the demise of love, religion, and morality in the modern world. In a sense, Glover's Mistake is the complete inverse of the ever-present romantic comedy. But that's not a bad thing at all, as this romantic tragedy will linger with you long after you put it back on the shelf.
Glover's Mistake is a novel about social relationships in contemporary London. It is a small story that suggests the broader theme of fragmented and distorted communication facilitated in part by internet social networking. The characters (especially David) seem to do things in order to talk/write about them hoping that someone, anyone, will respond. The interaction is driven by the need to construct a meaningful personal whole out of an apparent chaos of information and opinion. The characters have disparate backgrounds, represent different generations, and lack meaningful starting points for their social creations, the stories they tell to each other. Laird shows that the foundation of the stories is a developing self-consciousness. Glover is in the dawning idealistic stage, David is in the critical artistic phase, and Ruth is in the reorganization life review period. Laird's very good satiric description of social life in London is reminiscent of Patrick Hamilton's novels, especially Hangover Square (1941). People have a desperate need to get together and talk to each other, drinking alcohol to ease the way. Both authors focus on self-consciousness as an unreliable record of personal psychological development. Reworked and hidden memories create emotions that poke holes in each character's public story. An interesting contrast is that for Hamilton, the telephone plays a key role in faulty story telling while for Laird the internet is an important deceiver. Fans of Hamilton's work will enjoy Glover's Mistake recognizing the despair of the failure to connect. Thinking about the relationships of the multidimensional characters in Glover's Mistake, readers gain insight into their own artistic creations that they present to others rather inconsistently. A surprising thought is that people usually know more about you than you think. Internet programs like Facebook and Twitter foster quick and easy solutions to problems of identity that are unsatisfying all around. A hopeful note is that our personal works of art can improve with maturity.
Books and stories have always sparked debate but the most perplexing ¿argument¿ to me is that one where ¿plot¿ is pitted against ¿character development¿. Now I wouldn¿t put it in exactly those words; character development, to me, is something along the lines of Charles Dickens characters making their forlorn way through muddy, rainy streets, learning a thing or two every now and then.The opposite of action to me, is more like the writer¿s personal philosophy regarding his or her subject.Satire is my cup of tea, be it a book full of flashy, hilarious one liners a la Pynchon or a rolling, farcical set up with a subtler punch line as was the style of Wilde or Swift. That said, I understand that it¿s not the thing everyone comes to the table for but I don¿t think that idea-driven books are any less attention worthy than something that is straight fiction.Why the wind up? Well, I¿ve just finished this fantastic little book by Nick Laird. His short take on love and loneliness, faith and friendship is sparse in sparkly prose but certainly not lacking in those questions that drive plot-less books. There is a plot but it¿s a fairly simple one. Not-so-hipster professor David is not a terribly attractive character but he represents the part of us that so longingly needs to belong, to love and be loved. While he is not likable, he is lovable, despite or perhaps due to his flaws hitting so close to home. After bumping along as just another city bottom-feeder for many years, he runs in to (or tracks down, depending on who is telling the story) Ruth, a former art teacher from his school days. She is the embodiment of chic New York abroad in London and whatever mild, school boy crush David harbored before, turns into an obsessive devotion. Set on connecting in any way possible, David approaches Ruth at an art show and proposes a collaboration between picture and word, setting in motion a tentative friendship between the two. Of course neither life nor art imitating it works out as planned and Ruth is inevitably fixated on David¿s younger, more dashing counterpart and roommate, Glover. Hilarity and heartbreak follow.Obviously, this is not a ground breaking model for disaster but it isn¿t in the physical or dramatic adventure that the real action takes place and herein lies my point above. Right off the bat, we play witness to an art opening during which a blank black canvas, only mildly altered and dubbed Night Sky (Ambiguous Heavens) is sold for $950k. Through echos of this snip-it, explorations of pretention, elitism, and art, with an uppercase A, are bounced off of each member of the story.All of these discussions serve to flesh out the book where the plot is absent. The action is in the study; the adventure in the self-discovery. Now, while I have made a case against the plot-driven reader picking this up, I think that I¿ll put in one small plea for said readers to disregard that recommendation. Glover¿s Mistake, while waxing philosophical, bordering on entering into that very world of Art that is poking fun of, is about the average. It is about the mundane, the banal and the commonplace. Because of this, every reader, plot driven or thought driven, should pick up the book for in its radical expose, it is an expose of the everyman.
This was a story about a love triangle between two younger guys and a 40 some year old artist. It was a hard story for me to get into because none of the characters were all that likable. What I liked about the book is that it is inherently modern right down to the use of a blog in the plot and the younger man/ older woman plot line.
Glover's Mistake by Nick Laird is a bruising meditation on love and relationships in modern England. It begins with David, a somewhat doughy and insecure man who meets his former art teacher at an exhibit of her work in London, begins a friendship and introduces her to his friend and flatmate, James Glover. What ensues is a love triangle and distinct satire about romance, culture and art. David is an insecure and unlikeable character, his neediness saturates the novel and makes him distinctly awkward. His adoration and obsession with Ruth, his former art teacher, borders on sociopath as he manipulates and ruins her relationship with his flatmate, Glover. However, the novel works. By making David so unpleasant, you get to the heart of the pretension of the London art scene and what it does to people. Recommended. (Read September 2009)
**Slight SPOILERS ahead**Glover¿s Mistake is the story of David Pinner who introduces Ruth Marks to his roommate, creating a love triangle that can only end in tears and a journey. David is a lonely English instructor who gloms onto anyone who shows him kindness; he¿s been in something like love with Ruth for 13 years when, as his teacher in college, he mistakes her grace and friendliness (and indifference) as a vulnerability he can exploit to pitch his woo. He invites Ruth to his apartment for dinner and she and James Glover, the roommate, hit it off.Ruth is a highly regarded feminist artist, beautiful and aging, and Glover is a handsome young man of 23 who recently lost his baby fat through exercise and isn¿t quite sure what to do with the attention he is now getting. When Ruth and Glover develop a relationship, David is left out as the third wheel and loses his chance at wooing Ruth and his relationship with Glover, one of the few people he¿s developed any sort of relationship with. As Glover and Ruth grow closer, David is driven underground in a sense- he does everything he can to wreck the romance through duplicity and sabotage, and spends most of his free time venting his spleen on art and love in his blog, The Damp Review. Since he doesn¿t feel a part of the world, that he¿s somehow unworthy and the world has done worse than rejecting him by ignoring him, he does what he can to knock the world down to what he sees as his level. Laird draws his sketch of these three people in minute detail. There are several really beautiful descriptions, made all the more poignant because they cast a pale glow and the character¿s foibles or foreshadow the despair that is coming like the terrible reveal in a nightmare. By the end of the book, even though none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, Laird forces us to empathize with Ruth and Glover because of the destruction David has brought into their lives. What starts out as a romantic comedy ends as Othello. Laird brings off the remarkable transformation because of his own skill at literary design, but he¿s too generous a writer to leave us without at least a glimmer of hope that Ruth and Glover will get on with their lives and, with less of David in their lives, might stand a chance.I recommend Glover¿s Mistake, though it is heartbreaking.
Nick Laird is especially skilful at creating characters you can¿t help but care about. ¿Glover¿s Mistake¿ introduces us to David Pinner, a pathetic, lonely man, who has hopelessly positioned himself in an increasingly uncomfortable love triangle. A professor of English Literature, Pinner prefers to analyze and deconstruct society from afar, and regularly postulates about the meaninglessness of art, the unequivocal death of romance, and the impossibility of love.Though Pinner often acts in ways that make you cringe, the very fact that his characters elicit such uncomfortable reactions speaks to Laird¿s talent for creating a world that you can¿t help but live in while reading this book. Recommended.
First off, Nick Laird is a great writer. There were so many descriptions in Glover's Mistake that were both unique and perfect. I would have never thought of a dirty, marked-up hallway as looking like a discarded scratch pad, but now I will never think of it as anything else. (Frankly, it makes the dirty, marked-up hallway I walk through every day seem a little bit prettier, so thank you for that!) On top of that, Laird manages to filter a lot of philosophical discussions of art and beauty through the character of David, and they never stick out awkwardly from the novel or seem to hang above the narration as authorial inserts, as so often happens when a writer tries to inject "thinking points" into fiction. David is fully fleshed out, and that means that you believe in him even as his actions chip away at his likeability. It's a very accomplished character portrait, made more so by the fact that sometimes you sympathize with him and other times you are firmly against him.That said, as a whole the novel felt a bit slight. We've seen this story before--an embittered person takes down a former friend without ever being suspected, in this case because of a woman. And while David is a sort of schlubby, unexpected Tom Ripley, I'm not sure there's enough going on besides the sabotage plot to truly make it a stand-out novel. The small side plots hit dead ends along the way, and while I think an argument could be made that they are intended to go nowhere, that the only thing David can actually control is Glover and Ruth's relationsip, this makes the ending of the book feel a little simplistic and one note. There's also a strange divide of perspectives--about 90% of this book is written from David's perspective, and yet we get one or two small sections from Glover and Ruth at the end for no real reason other than to squeeze as much suspense as possible from the less-than-heart-pounding ending. It feels a little like Laird's cheating in the homestretch because the spare plot led him into a tricky spot. That said, I did enjoy the prose and would read another of Laird's books if given the chance.
Glover's Mistake is about a love triangle between 3 characters who could not be less likable. The main character "David" is a disgusting, selfish, scheming pig. He pretends to be a friend to the other 2 members of the triangle--"Ruth" and James "Glover" all the while he writes terrible things about her on his blog and is so jealous of Glover it is off-putting. I have nothing bad to say about Laird's writing. His characters are very real they just aren't likable. I did not care what happened to any of these people and as such, had a hard time finishing this book.
I initially had a difficult time getting into Nick Laird's GLOVER"S MISTAKE. The characters were not richly drawn, nor were they sympathetic. The story is told from the point of view of a teacher who is cynical, rancorous and full of vitriolic rage, overweight, unhappy, and self-absorbed. If it weren't for Mr. Laird's superb writing and trenchant observations, I would have dropped the book entirely. But here is an example of the kind of brilliant observation that kept me going. The protagonist, David Pinner, goes home for Christmas, and here is how the author describes the plastic Christmas tree in David's parent's living room (p. 87): "Since some of the branches had been slotted in wrongly to the metal trunk and were now stuck, it was bush-shaped rather than conical, and bare of decoration but for a single strand of silver tinsel that snaked around it and an angel David had made at school from yellowed card and pipe-cleaners, with a polystyrene ball for a head. The angel had had a cardboard wand once, and over the years Hilda had replaced it with a toothpick, a paperclip and now, rather ominously, a red-headed match."I am glad I stayed with the book. Somewhere around page 120 a true novel gets going. In the first part of the story Mr. Laird is guilty of that English tendency to describe the surface of a character, and then to let that surface represent reality. (In Mr. Laird's own words, p. 127, "...these people, with their casual manners and ironic patter, their insinuation that surface was depth, that appearance was content.") Not only does the novel now supply a lot of the back-story of the characters, but the observations and musings themselves become richer, deeper. And what is mere description in the first part of the book, now becomes action and plot-points. The writing remains wonderful. There is a passage where David lies in the bed of his flat-mate Glover. Glover had embarrassed and emotionally wounded David earlier, and this might be the "mistake" named in the book's title. It is after Glover's harsh words that David is spurred to become a devious Iago, manipulating situations to bring about Glover's fall from happiness to misery. Here is how Nick Laird describes it (p. 153):"David smiled at himself in the wardrobe mirror, then sat down on the edge of the bed...Carefully he lowered himself down on to his back...So this was the view from here, from his bed, from his pillow. This is what it was like to be Glover...Here was his Artex ceiling, the cream paper globe of his lampshade. David turned his head to the right and here was his wall: magnolia, matt, bumpily plastered. To the left, here were his photographs, his books, his clothes; and here was something else, his smell...after he'd come back from the pub, under the smell of stale beer and ash there was a hint off him of forest, timber, sap. And now it came from his pillow. David inhaled again. Was Ruth's perfune in there? Some part per million of the atmosphere suggested her, a citrus sweetness."I became absorbed in the second half of the book, a reaction in direct opposition to my feelings about the first half. It was still not possible to be sympathetic to David; but it is a testament to Mr. Laird's skill that one can understand David's actions, can see why the protagonist does what he does. I suspect that time won't be kind to this novel. There are too many references to events and music and descriptions that won't have any resonance, even a generation from now. The book is very much of one time (2007) and one place (London). There will need to be a glossary, and notes in the back of future editions, to parse and explain a sentence like this one (p. 188): "Rolf was explaining to Glover why 35 mil is still way better than digital." That aside, I still would recommend this novel to a reader who enjoys books on manners, morals and Society. There are so many fine descriptions and observations that it will benefit the reader to make their way to the second half
This is a well written book with a very literary feel. The problem, however, is that all of the characters are completely unlikable. I feel a certain affinity for the main character, David Pinner, and I see myself in him a bit, but he draws me in just to make me hate him later. He starts out as the classic nerdy unpopular guy who wants to be a writer. Pinner then turns out to be totally inept with women, becoming friends with the woman he wants to make his girlfriend without ever attempting to do anything that get her to see him in that light. So, instead, Pinner's friend, James Glover starts seeing her and then proposes marriage to her. Pinner spends the rest of the book trying to destroy this relationship until he eventually succeeds at the end. It's not even as though Glover's character is sympathetic. He is unreasonably jealous over his fiance's past relationship with another woman and cheats on her besides, and finishes up his unpleasantness by smacking the fiance at the end of the book.The only message or moral the author seems to be trying to convey with the book is don't trust your friends. Great, thanks for that.
Randal's mistake was wanting the flavor of Utterly Monkey again. Laird is undoubtedly a great writer, in plotting and pacing (weaker here) and motivation and flow on the individual page. But a book in which every major character is so completely self-deceived is not for me. Maybe you'll love it.
Unlucky at love, 30-something English teacher David Pinner falls hard for Ruth Marks, a former art teacher whose work is on display at a local gallery. Unfortunately, before he can even make his feelings known, she falls hard for his much younger roommate, James. The two have an almost immediate mutual attraction that quickly escalates to a marriage proposal, and David is quickly reduced to third wheel and chum to the happy couple. David, for his part, is not happy to step aside, and plots to plant a few choice seeds that just might tear the couple apart. Ruth is old enough to be James' mother and David uses that to plant doubt about his maturity and ability to commit to one woman. Ruth has been married multiple times and has had a few lesbian relationships in the past and David uses her close friendship with a past female lover to fan the flames of jealousy within James. He clings hopefully to the premise that when they break up, he will be that strong shoulder for Ruth to cry on and, ultimately, to turn her affections. I enjoyed this novel very much, particularly with Laird's uncanny ability to communicate the subtleties of language and gestures and how they can create a shift in how any given character can feel about his place in a group. One minute you are fitting in, and feeling loved and admired. Then with the raise of an eyebrow or with a simple cutting remark, you find yourself on the outside looking in, wondering if you were ever "in" with this group in the first place. My only disappointment happened with the end of the book. I felt as though the last pages were building to a huge climax--the image driven home with James' running harder and faster toward home--but it didn't really happen. However, this was a good story, all in all, and David's second disappointment with another potential girlfriend seemed fitting. I'll watch for more by this author.
Deceit, betrayal, and misunderstandings comprise the heart of this novel about two roommates and a woman who they both find attractive. Cleverly written as to show how friendships can easily unravel, this tale of London life disappoints only when the author intrudes on his own story to demonstrate his worldly knowledge and cynicism. Had he let his characters speak for him without his need to intrude, this would be a five star novel.