WHO IN HELL (Grove Press) by Robert Chalmers. Fiction, 2002. 360
Pages. Surprise, surprise- I’m reviewing YET ANOTHER book written by an
author from the UK. That
said, Who’s Who in Hell
doesn’t actually fit the drinking/fucking/fighting/crude humor type of
book I usually review (though don’t worry, ya cuntchy [I love that word-
it means “cunt that ye are”], the next book I’m reviewing falls
right back into that ol’ familiar territory).
This is Robert Chalmers’ first novel, and it’s something he
should be proud of.
Daniel Linnell is the story’s main
character. We get to watch
his funny, tortured, achingly bittersweet love affair unfold with Laura
Jardine, an oddball American who is a reformed (well…maybe not so
reformed) sex fiend and a skydiving daredevil to boot, and that’s cool
in its own right. We also get to follow his budding career as an obituary
writer for an English newspaper, and this part of the book provides some
especially good laughs. In
fact, this novel’s title comes from Linnell’s inspired idea of writing
a book of his own called Who’s Who
in Hell, a look at the certain-to-be-damned among the recently
deceased that even includes a few of the not-yet-deceased.
This effort results in its own darkly humorous yet disastrous
results for Linnell and it’s one of my favorite parts of this story.
Chalmers also throws in a nice change of pace by sending Daniel and
Laura to Kansas to visit Laura’s extremely dysfunctional family.
It’s a good bit of storytelling and it’s also interesting to
see what Heartland Americans are like as perceived by someone who’s not
from around these parts. (And
when you read the phrase “not from around these parts” in the
preceding sentence, try to imagine it being said in a more hillbilly-ish
version of Nick Nolte’s voice. It
just feels better that way).
One of the blurbs on the book’s cover
mentions that Robert Chalmers writes like John Irving, deftly balancing
comedy and tragedy while telling a very interesting story.
I agree. While
there’s no neatly packaged, feel-good kind of ending to be had here,
Chalmers still makes you feel something,
albeit a sad something. When
it’s all said and done, Who’s
Who in Hell is a book about which I can honestly say that old pathetic
phrase “I laughed, I cried, I loved it!” without feeling like too much
of goddamn fool. Cuntchy. –Ben Hunter