Title: The Low Road
Author: Chris Womersley
Publisher: Scribe 
Technically this isn’t really a review because I didn’t finish the book. In the portion that I read a disgraced junkie doctor (Wild) and a crook with an untreated bullet wound (Lee) are thrown together by circumstances at a seedy motel on the outskirts of town. They head off on the kind of road trip you’d take if you were unlucky enough to live in Hell, ostensibly to find a surgeon who can deal with Lee’s injury. Another crook (Josef) is angry with the Lee and he follows them. Things go downhill from there.
After I’d read the first 20-odd pages I put the book down and found dozens of ways to avoid picking it up again. I did that same thing three or four more times over the next couple of weeks. But, as I had voted for this book to be the subject of discussion at an online book club and because it’s by an Australian author, I felt obliged to give it another go. I got as far as page 74 before deciding I couldn’t spend my time in the company of these people anymore.
One of the things I love most about reading is that it often provokes strong reactions. I laugh, I cry, I join social justice campaigns, I pull bedclothes over my head in fear. Or, on occasions like this, I feel every crevice of my being becoming full of overwhelming despair. I vowed after finishing Luke Davies’ Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction that I wouldn’t read a book of unending bleakness again, so feeling that despair fill me up like wet cement fills a foundation ditch, I assigned The Low Road to the DNF pile.
I can appreciate the writing. Womersley has a capacity for creating striking and long-lasting images with deceptively simple phrases that I am deeply envious of. It’s the subject matter sucked out my soul. I’ll demonstrate if I may. Josef has broken into Lee’s apartment and before leaving he pisses all over Luke’s bed (don’t ask). Womersley writes
He was unsure to do what to do when he had finally finished. He zipped himself up and waited while the rust -coloured puddle melted into the sheets and mattress. It didn’t give him nearly as much satisfaction as he had hoped, but perhaps he had expected too much.
That is exceptional imagery. But it makes me want to curl into the foetal position and weep.
Before I finish I’m going to have a whinge about the book’s eschewing of quotation marks to indicate dialogue. Is there a point? Is it supposed to be edgy? Modern? Was there a memo I missed? The book has commas, apostrophes and all the other punctuation you’d expect to see in English prose so I fail to see what purpose removing the humble quotation mark served but I found the failure to distinguish dialogue from everything else bloody annoying.
My rating 0/5 (DNF)
My view on this book is a minority one. Most people, including those who judge the Ned Kelly Awards, think it’s a great book. Which shows what I know. Here are links to a few of the many reviews that speak far more glowingly of the book than I do.
Reviewed by Damien at Crime Down Under
Reviewed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise
Well, you’ll have fun with the online discussion Bernadette won’t you? It was bleak wasn’t it?
Oh, I really do like honest reviews 🙂
I am not that good at putting a book away even when it annoys me all the way through; I am more likely to let all my family hear how stupid the author/translator/plot or whatever is.
The quote you provide is like a talentless teenager trying to imitate Satre-type existentialism, and failing.
Do you find it harder to be as negatively honest if the book has come to you via a publisher as a free reading copy? I find this very hard.
@Kerrie – I’ll be hard-pressed to join in without feeling an urge to slash my wrists 🙂
@Dorte – I’ve given up ploughing through books I hate – too many good ones out there. I only tried so hard with this because I felt guilty for voting it for discussion at the Oz Mystery Readers group
@Maxine – I don’t get that many free review books (deliberately) and have only had one I absolutely hated – it was the most ludicrous plot and I just wanted to take whole slabs of the writing and make sarcastic comments about it. My compromise in the end was to not write a review
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