Saturday, October 07, 2006

Julie Myerson - ‘Something Might Happen’

The day after I finished reading Something Might Happen, I walked past a Daily Record newspaper board which included the phrase ‘Murdered student’s sister opens her heart.’ Having been involved for the previous week in a story which revolves around a woman who is murdered in a car park and has her heart removed, my immediate thought was ‘Oh, they must have got it back then.’ Why would you open a heart, especially one belonging to your own dead sister? Then I got it, and felt a bit stupid. But it says something for the chilly, anti-normal atmosphere of the book that I considered this alternative interpretation of the headline for even a few seconds.

On TV, Julie Myerson is great. She’s my second favourite Newsnight Review pundit after Tom Paulin, but where he’s contrary, she filters bullshit. Other panellists attempt varying degrees objectivity; Julie is proudly subjective. If a book / film / whatever doesn’t say something to her about her life, it’s out. ‘But I just wasn’t interested’ is how she’ll begin the tirades which pop pretension and masculine drum banging alike. For her, art should be small scale, closely observed. I was curious how this aesthetic would come across in her own novels.

The answer is, pretty well. Something Might Happen is set in a quiet seaside town, and looks at the greater and lesser dalliances of narrator Tess, from within the confines of what seems a happy family life. The happiness is only implied, because all the action takes place against the recent murder of Tess’ best friend Lennie. Within the time frame of the book there is almost no happiness at all. Husband Alex (an ex of Tess’, and he still has a bit of a thing for her) is distraught, can barely function. The action concentrates almost exclusively on people who loved the murdered woman (Alex, Tess, Tess’ husband Mick, the children of both couples), and is correspondingly bleak. The bereavement is so recent and so horrific none of them can think straight. Factor in Alex’s continued interest in Tess, and Tess’ obsession with one of the murder investigation team, and you have one dark sticky death sex mess. Myerson’s aim seems to be to heap as much shit as she can on to her characters, to see if they’ll break. Or perhaps her point is that people don’t break, under the most awful of circumstances. They can’t be relied on not to fuck things up further, but most can get through this stuff.

My problem was, I kept wanting the book to lighten up. Given the above constraints, this is the last thing it was ever going to do, but I felt let down that Myerson resorted to the ‘Oh my God! A body!’ opening gambit. The whole Tess / Alex / Lennie / Lacey (the policeman Tess likes) thing would have been plenty for, say, Woody Allen to work on, without killing anybody. It’s perfectly possible to fall in love whilst already married without being pushed into it by a horrific murder. Why bring grief into the mix? Because grief is messy, I suppose, and people don’t stop inappropriately fancying each other when they’re afflicted by it. Or at least that’s the message here. I would have thought that they do, but anyway. I have two objections to the grief. Firstly, it smacks of ITV police dramas. Yer joyless Crackers and Prime Suspects, so unaccountably popular. As, in less fraught ways, are Casualty and even East Enders. I hate all these programmes. The police dramas, disgustingly forensic, have a story arc which takes the viewer from a) as bad as things could possibly be, pictures, to b) a bit better, but still worse than before whatever caused a) happened. I prefer story arcs which come out of the red occasionally. Bit of light, bit of shade.

Secondly, I’d like to bring in another terrible TV show, Dawson’s Creek. It tried to mask its considerable shallowness by adding the words ‘right now’ to the end of every self pitying teenage sentence, to max out the moment, make the characters’ pain vital by dragging it into the ultra present tense. In Something Might Happen, the phrase of choice is ‘I mean it.’ Every bloody conversation, the whole book long, somebody means it, and says so. It doesn’t do any good, they all lie to each other anyway.

Apart from that, I liked it.

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