Friday, 11 September 2015

Review: The Quorum by Kim Newman

Aaaah. Nobody does nasty like Newman.

Meet Derek Leech, a less-than-sly stab at Murdoch type press barons, who oozes from the Thames like an eldritch entity slipping through the gaps between worlds. Able to read the future, he harnesses pain to his own ends, building a media empirein London's Docklands. To fuel this, he promises three teenagers the fulfilment of their youthful dreams if they begin an annual campaign against Neil Martin, the absent member of their clique. Between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day, they pool their efforts to destroy his life further each year, ensuring their own success.

Enter Sally Rhodes, P.I. and single mother, paid by one of the group to keep an eye on Neil before New Year's Eve. With this, the stage is set for a deal-with-the-Devil, black magic thriller.

This is not what Newman delivers.

I admit to being something of a fangirl, and will cheerfully say this is the most uncomfortable of Newman's books that I've read. I also suspect it will probably be one of those I reread the most. Like his short stories, this is one that slips into your head and twists, not letting you escape. While his social commentary is more subtle here than in his other works (more reminiscent of An English Ghost Story than things like Bad Dreams) its views the political through the personal, dealing not with global movements, but human nature.

Because, in The Quorum, Leech is a liminal figure and the focus is less upon ruthless, captitalist bastards, as amusing, geeky artists. Michael, Mark and Mickey are all flawed, selfish, prejudiced, but they are familiar. Worse, they are horribly, fascinatingly, likeable (although I struggled a bit with Mickey.) Meeting at school, they are outcasts who revel in their strangeness and make it serve them. Their conversations are clever, full of references dropped and running jokes about the world that is agaisnt them. They put on anarachic am-dram productions and play life-or-death boardgames that are far more relevant to them than the real world. Even into adulthood, quickly revert to their old bantering style.

As a member of a similar clique myself, I sympathised, I empathised. Knowing how hard it is to succeed in creative industries, I wished them well. Even their early pranks had an air of playfulness to them, of the score settling contemplated on a lazy afternoon as friends egg each other on to ever greater excesses. I've never really taken revenge, or played a cruel trick, but, oh, the plans I have laid.

Then, of course, you remember. Then you look at Neil, scraping by in a pitful, wounded life, paying for their success.

No-one does nasty like Newman.

(Also in the edition are a series of short stories featuring the characters from the novel in very different worlds and situations. They are like little hooks in the mind, small nightmares to keep you awake, the sort of jokes that have you cracking up even as you scream, "I should not be laughing at that!" I've always been very fond of Newman's shorter fiction.)

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