Saturday, May 14, 2011

And The Ass Saw The Angel - The Wrap Up

If you know anything about Nick Cave, chances are it's that almost none of his work is made of sparkle, smiles and sunshine. And The Ass Saw The Angel is no exception to that perception.

I mean, look at that moustache. This is a not a man to meddle with!

This is one dark tale, if ever there was one. In the opening pages, you discover that the lead character is dying a slow, suffocating death in a swamp somewhere, watched by a flock of crows. The valley where he lives is an isolated, volatile environment, fuelled by religious extremism (of the Christian, Bible Belt variety). His mother is a drunk, and his father is an inbred hillbilly who takes pleasure from trapping and torturing animals. Euchrid, the protagonist (which is a term I'm reluctant to use, for reasons I'll explain later), is a mute, whose twin brother died not long after birth, an event he remembers vividly.

This was never going to be a 'happily ever after' kind of story. In fact, this book couldn't be less of a fairy tale if it tried.

There are plenty of strange things about the writing style that immediately made me scratch my head/irritated me/intrigued me/made me VERY uncomfortable: the switching back and forth from first person to omniscient narration, the regular misspelled words used to demonstrate Euchrid's strong Southern accent, the regular twisting of religious allusion, and even a little bit of fourth wall breaking, which seemed to come out of nowhere! Initially, I thought, "Wow, this would make a great film! So much description, with so much visual potential!" But as I got deeper into the text, I quickly discovered that with the way this book has been written, such an idea would be an impossibility.

While the techniques Cave uses are a little strange, they do their job perfectly. Each and every one of these tricks and styles left me feeling edgy and irritable, matching the disturbing nature of the story perfectly. Full of violence, intrigue and suspicion, this is not a tale for the faint hearted, mostly because it's so bloody believable.

All the characters are so incredibly flawed, you don't know whether or not to empathise with them. Even Euchrid, beaten and bruised in so many ways, turns out to be quite repulsive and insane, leaving you questioning whether this story was meant to have a hero or not. It's like Cave wants you to feel the ostracisation Euchrid felt by not allowing the reader to make any solid connection with anyone in the book. Even Beth is treated as a distant figure, never really making anything of herself apart from the pure, dainty child the town wants her to be.

To say I enjoyed this book wouldn't be entirely correct. It unsettled me immensely, all the way through, but the quality of the story (no matter how horrifying) was easy to see. I can't help drawing a comparison to how I felt about Black Swan - it's a great piece of art, but I don't think I would want to go through it again. This book, like the aforementioned film, is a piece that I admire, but I did not like. It's an interesting line to draw, but one that I stand by.

Natalie Portman. Great movie. Creepy as hell.
(I would have liked to have used another word there, but I'm trying to keep this professional!)

I highly recommend this one. I was initially curious as to why it was listed on the Popular Penguins list. Now I can see why. And The Ass Saw The Angel is a fantastic reflection on the danger of extreme religion, both within the establishment and outside of it, on people and places, innocent or not. It is certainly a book for our times.

Have you read Nick Cave's And The Ass Saw The Angel? Did it disturb you as much as it did with me? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

x Noni