Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Review: And the Ass Saw the Angel: A Novel by Nick Cave

And the Ass Saw the Angel, Revised Edition

One of the things a Literary Man should do is read books, and I don’t suppose you’d be reading this blog if you were not interested in reading books. For that reason, I intend to write a review on occasion of a book that I think fits into the Man Lit genre. Today I start with And the Ass Saw the Angel, by Nick Cave. That’s right, the musician Nick Cave of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

This book is the definition of Man Lit, although the protagonist (if such he can be called) is a young man or boy, and deserves to be read by all devotees of Man Lit. 

From the back cover of the paperback edition I read, the Daily Telegraph said: “As if a Faulkner novel had been crossed with Whistle Down the Wind and then narrated by a stoned blues musician . . .” I agree.

The title of the book is a quote from the Bible:

And the Ass saw the angel of the Lord
standing in the way, and his sword drawn
in his hand: and the ass turned aside
out of the way, and went into the field:
and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her
into the way. (and so forth)

  Numbers 22:23, et seq.

A rather cool quote, I think.

The story takes place in the deep south of the United States (although Nick Cave is a Aussie whom I believe presently lives in Berlin). The “hero” of the story, Eucrid Eucrow, is born into abject poverty to a moonshine filled mother, and a father who busies himself trapping little animals and throwing them into a wooden corral, which in my mind was rather like an old water tower tank.

He comes into conflict with his mother and his father, and the fanatically religious towns people, and slides more and more into insanity hides in a swamp, is found out there, and then builds a fortress around his house guarded by mean dogs that he thinks are alive, but seem all to be dead. Throughout most of the story it is pouring rain. It weighs on you like a big damp blanket, setting the tone of the tale.

When I pick up a book in a store trying to decide whether to buy it, I read the first line, and then I flip through the book to a random spot to see if the language is interesting. To The Literary Man, the writing style will always be of paramount importance over the story.

The book has a prologue involving crows flying around, which I found a little opaque, but I knew I was in good territory with the opening of Chapter 1:

“It was his brother who tore the caul on that, the morning of their birth, and as if that sole act of assertion was to set an inverted precedent for inertia in his life to come, Euchrid, then unnamed, clutched ahold of his brother’s heels and slopped into the world with all the glory of an uninvited guest.”

Good stuff.

Now in the middle of the book?

“Ah was scared — yes, ah was. Ah could feel mah innards become bundles of livid rope from which swung a chattering sabbat of hunchbacked bell-ringers.”

Even better stuff (yes, he is trying to give the impression of the southern accent, but he doesn’t over do it.)

With these two quotes, and the comments from the back, and my knowledge that Nick Cave had a way with words, I plopped down my cash.

Bottom line, the book is brilliantly written and a joy to read, although after reading it you may not be able to explain to anyone what it was about, and you may not even know what it was about. But that is not so important for the Literary Man. In popular fiction the story is king, and the writing style is of virtually no importance. We, on the other hand, want a story, of course, but the style of the writing is what counts. This book is a buy and hold. One of my favorite books of all time.

I note, however, at least in the edition I read, which was printed in the UK, they use British terms for things. For example, “torch,” when they mean “flashlight,” and “bonnet,” when referring to the hood of a car. Don’t let that stop you, though, it’s worth reading either way, and you can find humor in the silly names that the Brits have given to things. (I love Brits, don’t get me wrong. But they do use some funny words.)

The book mentioned here, as well as other relevant stuff, can be purchased through Amazon:


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