Today I am going to take a break from writing about my oh so thrilling life to review a book that is rapidly becoming one of my favourite reads.
A brief introduction from my first impressions:
I like this book because I think it has astutely picked up on many life gripes and constricting societal conventions that many people can relate to, voicing thoughts that many of us have but cannot say aloud without consequence. In addition to the overall themes that resonate throughout the narrative, there is often comedic relief to some of the darker scenes and a dry wit that is consistent in the narrator, and often induces laugh out loud moments- perfectly balancing this novel as a dark comedy.
Hopefully this has intrigued you enough to stop reading this blog post and immediately download Skive from the amazon kindle store, if not, let’s see if I can adequately entice you further with my review.
Author: Paul Adam Levy
Where to buy it: Amazon Kindle Store If you don’t have a kindle, you can download the app to your mac or tablet device – IOS and android– So really you have no excuse as to why you can’t buy it- ‘I like a book in my hands’ is a crappy reason not to read a good book.
So back to the review. Where to start. Well I guess an overview of the narrative would be a good place to begin. I say plenty below, let’s give you the blurb as a further enticement seeing as I doubt any of you have yet clicked the amazon link… Am I right?
Skive is a black comedy that introduces a dysfunctional man who, disillusioned with his boring, hum drum life working in a supermarket, is thrown into panic when an unexpected opportunity is offered to him. Suddenly, he feels trapped in a life he wishes to escape.
A snap decision to flee from the routine and boredom finds him on an unplanned, ill-thought through journey on the streets of London, searching for an elusive dream. He observes with wit and cynicism a way of life he never could have imagined.
So here’s my review, but mostly my analysis, which you may very well disagree with, but you’ll have to read the book to do so.
Skive follows a male protagonist who is clearly not much of a people person, but is very funny in his observations of others and humanity as a whole. I think one of the things I quite like about this book are the many candid observations of characters that everyone makes in day to day life, the stereotypes, the ‘sheep’ nature that every human being defaults to just to fit in within society. And this is how the protagonist both fights against and completely submits/defines himself by these expectations. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself again, you need more context.
The story starts by following the protagonist to his menial, very repetitive job at a supermarket. I hate to say it but most of us have been there or are there doing the kind of job that can drive anyone crazy. This is addressed very nicely in the motif of pears.
“I stacked pears on top of pears, pears under pears and pears next to pears.”
I think this is one of the things that resonates beautifully throughout the book, the pointlessness of such a job can be applied to life, life is pointless, we do these jobs, we stack our pears, we come home, we sleep, we stack some more pears, all for money to chase a dream, a lifestyle, an expectation, until we eventually die. A little bleak yes, a tad existentialist, probably, but truthful? Absolutely.
So early on in the narrative, our protagonist has a moment that anyone living in ignorant bliss of life would be thrilled to have, but for the protagonist it is a step too far and something snaps, his patience has run out, his “black eels” take control and he quits his job (the spark plug of the moment). This is just the start of a series events that lead to our protagonist roaming the streets of London surviving as a homeless man.
The “black eels’ motif runs throughout as an excellent visualisation of what I think most people quite often feel. The moments when something inside you rebels against external forces, whether a boss shouting at you, or a job you don’t want to do becoming too much, or simply the guy you sit next pissing you off. I think we all spend a decent amount of time suppressing our black eels, some more than others. Those lucky enough to not really know what I’m talking about are probably euphorically happy, never get angry or do anything wrong- you can pat yourself on the back you’ve achieved Sainthood. The ones who let their eels take control are probably borderline, if not totally insane, which is another theme that we follow throughout this protagonist’s journey. While he tries to control his “black eels”, he is constantly teetering on the line between sane and insane, add a little dehydration and starvation to the mix and it often feels like he’s slipped more into the insane side of the pool.
And while this seems like a very dark and depressing story, it is weirdly upbeat and highly amusing. The protagonist has dry humour through his candid observations and often says the things that we all think but do not say aloud. There are scenes of comical genius, my personal favourite is one that takes place on the tube. As a London commuter, I could both relate to it and wish I had the balls to do the same. The same as what you ask? You’ll have to read it to find out.
While our ‘hero’ of the story is ‘driven’ to this state of living, or what he perceives as his only choice of living through self-punishment, shame, and societal pressures and constructs of right and wrong, you don’t ever feel that he has found the freedom that he craved, the answers that he sought. Each event, scene, moment just demonstrates that really when you leave one way of living, you only swap it for another with different rules, constrictions, oppressions, and judgements. Essentially, I think, what he is trying to escape is not society and its structures, but the confinements of life. We’re born, we eat, we sleep, we work, we die. On the streets, there is no relief from that. Just little comforts, a different kind of work, and a different sense of the ‘self’ as someone rejected by society.
His journey is a unique one, and a circular one at that, but what I enjoyed about this book is the way that it looks at the world, at people- it takes you into a different perspective, a very witty perspective, a dark perspective, an unusual perspective of how to view life. This book, for me, is very reminiscent of some of my favourite post-war writers such as Patrick Hamilton, George Orwell and Earnest Hemingway, all exemplifying disjointedness, isolation and disillusionment in a world that makes very little sense to most of us who stop to look at it, trying to find rhyme and reason outside of the daily grind.
Maybe I just have quite a cynical outlook on life and you are all sitting there thinking, “what is she on about ‘black eels’, I don’t have black eels”. Well, you are probably a better person than me, and I am talking universally about my own life experience, but I’m then again, I’m pretty sure you would have had to have reached saint status and have lived under a rock to not relate to at least some themes/ideas covered in this book.
I guess that wasn’t your traditional book review and I have probably bored you all to death with an analysis on life- who cares? Well, you should care, but more importantly, you should enjoy everything this book has to offer. Whether you read between the lines, or read at face value, Skive is thoroughly entertaining and incredibly engaging. And the more I harp on about it, the more it is gaining favourite book status, and that’s very high praise indeed, but maybe that’s just me.