Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crooked Little Vein

I am a Warren Ellis fan.

I love Transmetropolitan, Desolation Jones, and especially Fell. I love Ellis' style of setting his story in front of the weirdest backdrops and make it all work. Despite the weirdest scenario, he still manages to make the story interesting and give it depth.

That said, Crooked Little Vein is a little shallower than I had hoped.

Before I start, it is a rather short book. Don't let the package fool you, it looks like a normal book, but it has a large typeface and wide margins.

Starting to read Crooked Little Vein, I got the impression Ellis wrote it with the explicit intent to put something gross on every page. The beginning of the book failed to draw me in by cracking too many jokes, too many one-liners, and generally going overboard too much. In that respect, to me it was a lot like the first half of Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller—too smart for it own good. I did enjoy the grossness, and I genuinely cringed a couple of times at his descriptions of (or his hinting at) the outrageous acts of perversion that form the backdrop to his book. But it is this crass backdrop which is, in my view, the book's weakness.

Warren Ellis tries to do something extraordinary by using the most vile, disgusting, and often silly occurrences as the setting of his book, in a way a dystopian view of America, where perversion is pervasive. Instead of employing it for shock value (e.g. make a baddie truly hateable by giving him some weird repugnant fetish), he transforms it into something ordinary, which the characters in the book accept as everyday occurrences.

The one occasion where the plot itself sharply rises above the background noise level is late in the book, at a turning point for the main character. Up until then, Warren Ellis has been the weird uncle you only meet once every year on that family occasion, whom you try to get drunk because he will tell you the most outrageous stories. But the harmless uncle suddenly gets up and punches you in the stomach so hard all the air goes out of your lungs. Like Cory Doctorow, Ellis masterfully tortures his readers and induces that gut-wrenching feeling of loss you feel in sympathy with his characters.

The ending is short and sweet, although it could have been a little sweeter in my opinion. The reconciliation between the two main characters, an ideal counterpoint to the mean shock before, would have been nicer had it been described in more detail. It still would not have been too long. After all, the point of hurting you main character is to set up the happy ending, right?

All in all, I think Crooked Little Vein is best not considered as a full-length novel, but as something more experimental, like Warren Ellis' three-issue miniseries City of Silence. I do not mean to belittle the book in any way by saying this, by the way. I did enjoy it hugely, and I think it's wonderful that not all books are the same.

Ellis Fans: Buy it if you don't have it already, which you almost certainly do anyway.
Others: You might as well go ahead and buy it, if you fulfill the prerequisites: being a little jaded to the perversions of modern times, and the ability to accept a story on its own grounds.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see where you are coming from, but I guess it depends a lot on your point of view.

I very much enjoyed the love story aspect of the book, held together by the admittedly more or less thinly veiled MacGuffin plot. A love story featuring Godzilla Bukkake.

11:40 PM  

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