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Sad Bastard - Hugo Hamilton

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Hugo Hamilton / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 193 Pages / Book is published 1999-05-06 by Vintage

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      17.11.2008 17:10
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      Depressing comedy novel without the laughs

      Misery loves company. At least that's the impression I get when my partner is in a grumpy mood. Why should she be the only one that's in a strop? What about if she can bring me down too? Personally, that's not the life philosophy for me. If you are felling sad the best thing to do is get up and do something about it, that way at least your mind will be on better things. However, even I sometimes get the blues. There is something comforting about sitting in a darkened room and reflecting on your own depressing miserable life, you can always be sure that there will be a dark pain in your chest waiting there for solace. Not a cheery thought, but I have no problem if people want to be like this; just don't bring me down man! I live life with a smile on my face; that was until I read 'Sad Bastard'.

      Coyne is an ex police officer who is retired due to the bad lungs he sustained in a fire whilst on the job. Rather than try to heal himself Coyne revels in his own depression and seems to be slowly drifting into madness. No one can stop him on his one way road to destruction, but perhaps a family crisis is the motivation he needs? His son is the chief suspect in a murder inquiry and it appears that the boy is mixing with a crowd that wants him dead. For all his worry Coyne may no longer be equipped to save the situation, he is now more at home at the pub than in a case. Can Coyne save his son and himself?

      As a fan of dark humour in novels I have no problem with a comedy book being a little bleak. One of my favourite authors of all time is Colin Bateman and he specialises in combining harrowing darkness with irreverent humour from terrorism to the death of a child. What Bateman does is balance the light and the dark perfectly; there is plenty of humour in the macabre, even if we do not want to admit it to ourselves. What is not needed in a supposedly comedic novel is no humour and lots and lots of depression - this is what you get with 'Sad Bastard'.

      The depression stems from the central character of Coyne and its clear to see why he would be so down. Jobless, familyless and with no direction he is a man just waiting for it all to end. Straight away this is not a character that you would associate with the funny bone, but that should not stop a competent author from extracting laughs (see 'One Foot in the Grave'). The issue with Coyne is that he is not only depressed, but also lazy. Laziness is not something that is easy to pull off in fiction as it is the character's actions that drive the story onwards. Therefore, with Coyne being such a static man the story does not move quickly. In fact, it become evident that Coyne is not even integral to the plot and that he is a side character in his own book. This may have been an attempt by author Hugo Hamilton in trying to be arty, for me it made the book seem very throwaway.

      The best parts of the book are when it moves away from Coyne and towards the side players. Coyne's son is particularly interesting as he gets a job in an old people's home and his attitude towards the sick and infirm is note worthy. I also liked the sections around the bad guy in the book. This was a character with drive and it was more his actions that ignited the story. It was a shame that the ding dong between these two characters was repeatedly broken up by dull and depressing sections following an inconsequential person. I know that Coyne is meant to be the sad bastard that the title refers to, but at no point does he stop being this and develop into a likable person.

      There was one other area that I did not like about the book and that was the structure that Hamilton set. There are no chapters in the book and instead it is 200 pages of constant flow. Also there are no speech marks so you are not always aware whether a character is speaking out load or taking part in an internal monologue. There is a reason why the written word has used these devices for 100s of years and I cannot understand what makes Hamilton think he is above them. You end up going from situation to situation only realising it's a different 'chapter' about half a paragraph on. This was an unnecessary style choice that makes a poor book even worse.

      'Sad Bastard' in some ways is exactly what the title suggests; a book about a miserable man. However, the book was also meant to be humorous and did not achieve this at all. The book was almost 100% misery and the only light moments were around the extraneous characters. Add to this the awful structure and you have a book made unreadable at times. I have the sneaking suspicion that as an author Hamilton is trying to break the mould. I think he needs to get the basics correct before attempting the extraordinary.

      Author: Hugo Hamilton
      Year: 1998
      Price: amazon uk - £5.99
      play.com - £2.39

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