I'm not even sure what this book is actually supposed to be about. I thought something big was going to happen but it never did. Meh.
While for me this story wasn't quite as 'complete' as others I've read by DJ, its fevered denouement was one for the memory banks. I've also come to realize what a virtuoso's ear Denis Johnson possesses for capturing dialog.
"Late that day Michael pointed at the hazy distance and claimed he saw the hills of his childhood, the Happy Mountains, called by the missionary James Hannington, in frustration and disgust, the Laughing Monsters. . ."
Denis Johnson favors characters who live on the outskirts of society ("Jesus' Son," "Angels") or Americans adrift in hostile foreign countries that that don't understand ("The Stars at Noon," his Vietnam opus "Tree of Smoke"). His latest book features the latter, even if the lead character claims to be Scandinavian. As DeLillo mines the paranoid territories that were once the province of espionage novels, so Johnson maps the post-9/11 land (in this case Sierra Leone) that will be familiar to readers of Greene and Conrad. He writes in a deceptively flat manner, which can be off putting and his characters, at least in this book, are equally flat. I don't think he's ever topped the interconnected stories of "Jesus' Son," but I'll still read anything he writes.
A lot of things happen, but nothing that could be called a plot. Hard to understand why any intelligence agency would employ a rogue jerk like the protagonist. Characters appear and disappear without explanation. Some beautiful passages and observations, but more pretense about something important, than substance.
3 stars: Perhaps like you, I read this book because I saw it recommended in the Portland Mercury News in November 2014. The first half reads like William Gibson, with terse descriptions and fast action. Then, the author (or editor) lost control of the rudder. Pages of dialog, sans who said what, leaving you to backtrack or scratch your head over who's saying what. Also, inexplicable jumps forward in plot. Perhaps, Johnson wanted to convey the confusing sense of what it's like to be a shadow figure immersed in African global intrigue. What I got was a half-baked story, and scared away from further Denis Johnson adventures.
"Scandinavian operative Roland Nair is back in Africa at the behest of an old friend, attaché Michael Adriko, who's getting married. Or perhaps he's there on orders to find Michael, who may have deserted. This, like many of Roland's motivations, is unclear. And there's a lot more going on, not all of it above board, as shifting loyalties, secrets, and simple greed complicate an already murky situation. Though most frequently compared to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, this complex novel may also appeal to fans of Graham Greene." Thrillers and Suspense December 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/6a050f23-cdc4-453a-a96e-7a149af024eb?postId=901c3583-5625-4df9-bec5-ca2844f2061e
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