I had a dream last night that I picked up some sandwiches which were of brown bread not white. It was horrible. Now I am listening to the Ghostbusters theme and I feel better, so now you know my mindset, I shall begin.
Having read Catherine O’ Flynn’s fantastic debut What Was Lost, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this, then I did and subsequently proceeded to leave it for eight months sandwiched between a Manic Street Preachers biography and a Stephen Hawking book. Such is life.
The story focuses on the anchor man of Midlands TV local news, Frank. A man who hired a writer to give him gags to inject a bit of humour into the usual banal reports, the jokes though were so bad he has become a local legend and cult figure.
From this humble man a multitude of stories issue forth and are weaved together in intimate fashion, these range from the hit and run of an old friend, his family life and coping with the general humdrum style of life.
‘I wonder sometimes who we make this programme for. People who desperate to hear us repackage press releases from the fire service? People who demand no greater interactivity than an email address on screen? People who can’t focus on anything for longer than a minute and a half? All we do is bombard people with these random, decontextualized jumbles of facts and faces. Did you ever wonder who actually watches this programme?’
asks colleague Julia and it’s a fair question. Lets get this out of the way first. There are two types of people who watch the local news, people who are invested in it for some reason, maybe they are on it or care about local life and then there are the rest of us who are perhaps a more cynical bunch. We’ve seen the same things repeated endlessly, we don’t really watch it because it doesn’t really relate to our lives in any considerable way, for all intents and purposes it is just watched out of habit.
In essence one of the key themes of the book is this exploration of relevance in an increasingly fast paced and ever changing world. As well as being set in a newsroom in Birmingham there is the back drop of the continuing urban renewal of the city and the changing of the old memory laden buildings that have become outmoded and outdated.
We discover early on that Frank’s dad was an architect and so the question immediately posed is what sort of legacy do we leave behind when we die, be it physical or emotional or perhaps worse, nothing at all. O’ Flynn has a very sharp eye for observation of the dreary and mundane side of life and the sense of melancholy is palpable.
As usual I really don’t want to delve into to many of the facets that make this book a fine read, although the book deals with such things as nostalgia, loss and the decline of people/things around us, it never becomes an outright depressing book, as there is always an amusing skein of comedy running parallel to the sombreness. Dealing as the book does, with this type of subject matter it really is a pleasurable juxtaposition, so the emotions experienced by the reader cascade in ever changing ripples. That doesn’t make much sense, I suppose what I mean is that sometimes you should you know you should feel certain emotions but from reflecting on what you’ve already read it tends to skew your views and turn them around so you see the (sometimes) repetitive scenes in a new light and that is something a bit special.
The lampooning of the media ensures you won’t view the local news with the same attitude in future, perhaps for all the negativity and uniformness it conjures up it really is a relevent celebration of the community and also provides a view into the obscure and the facets of life rarely noticed in our speeded up world.
To sum up, some of us may worry, or be chronically haunted by the worry of our fleeting lives and what will legacy will remain when we are gone but overall the message this book gives out is one of positiveness of remembrance of the understanding of absence and loss. Perhaps most importantly how the inevitable regeneration and change doesn’t always have to be a cause for sadness.