[Narrator Rada has got caught up in an armed bank robbery]
One of the men shouted again and pointed his semi-automatic pistol at roughly the point where my head had been before I knelt, and then lay down, and I thought the old man was going to get shot. I recall thinking it would be a shame and something of a waste and a tragedy for a person to get shot just because he was deaf and maybe didn’t have the best peripheral vision. I reached out my right hand. From where I was lying, face down on the linoleum, I could just touch the old man’s foot. He was wearing brogues in thick, tan leather with the depth of shine that I knew, from having watched my father clean his shoes, and mine and, later, D’s, every Sunday evening until I was fourteen years old, came only as a result of repeated polishing over many years. I pinched the turn-up of his right trouser leg between my first and second fingers – I could not quite reach it with my thumb to get a better grip – and tugged, as best I could, to attract his attention and alert him to the danger he was in. He lifted his foot without turning, and shook it, as if shooing away a fly. When he put it down again, the heel – which I noticed was rubber, although the shoe had a leather half sole which was nearly new, or at least not worn – landed heavily on the first two joints of my index and middle fingers, and I could not help shouting out, even though I was trying not to, on account of not wanting to attract the attention of the men with guns, and possibly get shot.
observations: This very strange book is one I heard of over at Col’s Criminal Library. He made it sound unmissable, and anyway it was short(ish) and cheap. And he thinks I’m going to explain it to him. Ha.
I don’t know how you’d describe it – existential noir? We are introduced to a group of people who work in an office together: one of them is a witness to the armed bank robbery above. Nothing is what it seems. The office workers are described as ‘loss adjusters’ but in fact their job is far more unlikely and unusual than that. Some of them are related, some of them live together.
Then there is the bank robbery, which we quickly find out seems to have been staged by some disenchanted police officers. Worst case, two people were shot and possibly killed. But the bank officials claim no-one was hurt at all.
And then, the old man above. He refuses to obey the gunmen, and in the end walks away. But who is he? A name pops up, but it’s the name of someone known to have died a month ago - ‘I had seen the man’s body’ in its coffin. (Col’s review explains the plot better than I have, and in more detail.)
Very confusingly, the chapters are all first person, but are narrated by different characters, and you have to work out for yourself who is talking, with no hints at the beginning of the chapters. It is not that difficult, tbh – though two men have very similar voices - but it is annoying and a bit cheeky.
Throughout the text, there are endless references to literature – James Joyce, Philip Larkin, Dostoievsky, Ian McEwan, Melville - and no doubt many more that I didn’t pick up *. The title is a phrase from the book of Isaiah in the Bible – the sentence has God saying, roughly, ‘why do you make all these sacrifices, why do you think I want all these offerings, I have enough of the fat of fed beasts’. I don’t know why this is relevant.
The book is certainly well-written and very compelling, I really wanted to know what was going on, and the characters were memorable. I found it a little bit too tricksy for my tastes, and am not at all sure that I understood what had happened. I finished the book quite satisfied, but now keep thinking of questions. Sorry Col.
Mind you, I did find the clothes description he was looking for:
-- but I didn’t in the end go for that, nor for the carefully-described garb of the bank robbers – Kevlar vests and black balaclavas (instructions given on how to use one as a tourniquet). Nicholas Lezard reviewed the book very enthusiastically in the Guardian, and his final lines were ‘The result of all this is the best debut novel I have read in years. I am now going to polish my shoes.’ ( * Lezard also tells us that the book is stylistically indebted to Samuel Beckett, and I would like credit for the fact that I did not quickly slide Beckett’s name in amongst the references I noted myself above.) I’m not sure how important shoe-shining really is, but apparently the cover (I read it on Kindle) says the book is:He is wearing the pale grey Prince of Wales check, and a hand-made shirt the colour of pus. His tie is lime green.
about money, work, love, redundancy, crime, the afterlife AND the importance of well-polished shoes.The Fat of Fed Beasts was entertaining and very amusing. I liked this line:
You involve yourself with a very low grade of person when you become a thief.The plot would not challenge this proposition. Ware tells us he borrowed it from real-life bank robber Willie Sutton, who is quoted throughout the book.
On balance, I would read something else by Guy Ware.
The pictures above are from fashion adverts. An unlikely sidelight on the history of trouser turnups comes from Royalty here on the blog.