Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: "Last Week" by Giles Ruffer

Read it here for free

              When I picked up Last Week I expected a pretty standard Lin-school alt-lit deadpan romance with all the attendant stilted dialogues and awkward public moments. I was pleasantly surprised that, while this is a partially accurate reading of Last Week, Giles Ruffer does go above and beyond this overused style and displays at least the beginnings of a unique voice. Last Week winds the story of a relationship between two young characters: U. and I. with scenes from the life of a mysterious man referred to only by his "short black hair". The names alone provide some unusual moments as when I. (I) is talking to U. (you) etc. There are only a few other named characters in the novel, though because of their unusual names I. and U. retain a certain amount of anonymity, even though we get to witness the most intimate moments of their life. We see them go out to eat with friends, walk around a train station and exchange short statements, I. flirts with another girl from his past, but we never get to know them or their thoughts, if they even have any. Giles captures the comfortable/awkward, necessary/superfluous situation of a relationship for relationship's sake well: they make you cringe slightly, you want to grab them and shake them out of their rut.
              Inserted more or less between each vignette involving U. and I. there is a section following a man described only by his short black hair and scruffiness. Giles depicts him in the grainy closed circuit tape of any one of millions of suburban department stores and like U. and I. he is always kept at a mysterious distance. We are never aware of his motive or drive but he seems to have some vitally important mission that requires him to hang out in department stores inspecting dinnerware and harassing young female clerks. He sometimes attaches minuscule machines (recorders, transmitters, hallucinations..?) to people but their purpose is never revealed. The juxtaposition of the fairly transparent and facile relationship drama with the dark obscured wanderings of the man with black hair is a strange but good choice on Giles' part and provides some depth, some bite, a unique touch in the sea of awkward alt-lit romances.
           Giles' prose is unremarkable though this is sort of like faulting ice cream for not being nutritious, which is to say: that's not really it's job, ice cream's job is to be delicious, and Last Week's job is to paint a portrait of two young people in relationship in England. Giles' is English (as in from England) and this shows in his writing and adds something extra in a genre dominated by the New York and Chicago voice. My final criticism, and this is an aesthetically minor though professionally major one, is that there are what appear to be a few typos in the PDF. Giles writes infrequently on his blog so if you enjoy Last Week there is plenty more from him there. Giles has the beginnings of a unique voice and I would like to see it develop beyond the meandering relationship drama in the future. Last Week is a good start and a quick, free, enjoyable read

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