Saturday, 7 January 2017

"The future was like a newborn wild beast, which their talk domesticated"

I first picked this novel up in November, just before a business trip to Japan excited about the imminent release of the Tom Ford film adaptation, but I've only just got around to finishing it. Truth is that this is one of those books that I've been dipping in and out of for some time, around lots of others on my bedside stack, which was probably not the best way to immerse myself in the story.

Nocturnal Animals, or Tony and Susan as it was originally named prior to the film version was first published in the early 90s and is regarded by some as a bit of a forgotten modern classic. The fact that Austin Wright's novel caught the attention of Tom Ford was enough for me. I'm a huge fan of his adaptation of A Single Man and the original source novel by the brilliant Christopher Isherwood.

In Nocturnal Animals we meet Susan; a mother and wife who 'reads to take her mind off herself' and the daily grind of raising kids, paying bills, being a good wife to Arnold - you get the picture. Unexpectedly into the frame lands an unedited manuscript copy of a novel Nocturnal Animals written by her ex, Edward. The novel is essentially made up of Susan reading the manuscript in 3 sittings. Like a 3 act play the book within a book unfolds for Susan and for us as reader.

At is best the story makes neat parallels between the manuscript and Susan's own relationship, in retrospect, with Edward. As she reads more she begins to re-evaluate her own relationships through the novel. Moreover the arrival of the manuscript actually disrupts Susan's day to day routine and forces her to challenge her own reality, 'Every night before descending into her mind, Susan Morrow performs rituals. Dog walk, kitty kitty, lock doors. Three children safe with a night life, make love sometimes. Roll away from Arnold to the right, puff the pillow up, wait'.

The trouble is that the bulk of the novel is made up of the manuscript itself which is simply a first draft and is seriously flawed in places. Compelling and gripping scenes are followed by long sections where very little really goes on. The book within the book actually lets to the book itself down.

I've still not seen the film but I have a feeling that Mr Ford will be able to make more sense of this - at any rate it will look fabulous.

I read this novel on Kindle mostly in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Nocturnal Animals: Film tie-in originally published as Tony and Susan by Austin Wright published by Atlantic Books,  352 pages.      

Here's the film trailer

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