Music, in a Foreign Language by Andrew Crumey

Dedalus, 2004, 243p

 Music, in a Foreign Language cover

Not being a straightforward narrative, this is a difficult novel to describe. Tenses shift within sections, there are stories within stories, false starts, rewritten chapters, repetitions of scenarios and the narrator is at pains to point out the fictionality of it all, indeed at times it reads more as a disquisition on literary efforts than an attempt at one. Yet, for all these strictures, it was immensely readable.

The tricksiness begins early as the novel starts with Chapter 0, where the narrator is thinking post coital thoughts about two characters who meet on a train and about whom he intends to write a novel. The bulk of Music, in a Foreign Language deals with the back story of one of these, a young man called Duncan, and the events leading up to the death of his father, Robert Waters. Waters and his friend Charles King had at the time been involved in slightly subversive activity in a Soviet style post-war Britain. This was the first appearance of that altered history in which Crumey also set parts of Mobius Dick and Sputnik Caledonia. The compromises such a society demands, the paranoia it engenders – and the betrayals it necessitates – are allowed to emerge organically from the story. Despite the title, music as a motif appears sparingly.

My one minor caveat is that the female characters are not as fully rounded as they might be, but the book’s main focus is on the friendship between Waters and King, so perhaps that is understandable.

I was equally as impressed by this, Crumey’s debut novel, as I was by both others of his I have read. If you like well written, thoughtful – even playful – novels you could do worse than give Crumey a try.

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