Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Canal Paperback – June 15, 2010
|New from||Used from|
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
Finding himself more drawn to a drab stretch of London canal than to his boring job, the unnamed narrator of this ambitious debut quits and begins to spend his days cultivating a zen state immune to boredom's pernicious possibilities. He meets a woman who has succumbed to those possibilities, and over soon learns of the terrible effect that can come from submitting. Rourke skates over the potential pitfalls of a novel crafted around boredom: descriptions of hours spent staring at a building alternate effectively with emotionally charged, mysterious drama. From his disengaged protagonist to the heinous actions of the woman he becomes obsessed with, Rourke evokes a more systemic emptiness, of which boredom is but a symptom: a post 9-11 nihilistic alienation from meaning. The characters themselves are flatter for this, and seem mechanized by some philosophic endgame rather than genuine psychology. Accepted as such, though, and seen in the context of their realistically-detailed environment--aimlessly vicious teenaged gangs, marching gentrification, and omnipresent technology--they are telling emblems of a modern condition: adrift, bleak yet gentle, and terribly vulnerable to the amoral march of time. (June) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
British writer (Everyday, 2007) Rourke's charming debut novel unflinchingly tackles a subject many more experienced writers might balk at: boredom. The unnamed narrator not only admits his life is a drag; he embraces banality. Finally disgusted by his inane office job, he quits and spends every morning on a bench along a London canal. There he watches waterfowl in the park and aircraft above, dredgers cleaning the water and commuters headed to and from their deathtrap jobs, and a man in an office in a building across the canal. When a mysterious young woman begins to join him on the bench, recounting strange stories and confessing lies, and a gang of thugs begins to pester him, the narrator questions the meaning of love, violence, and nature, especially after discovering that the woman has some connection with the worker across the way. A meditation on boredom's propensity to both inspire inner peace and instigate acts of terrorism, Rourke's surprisingly entertaining tale will keep readers glued to their seats. --Jonathan Fullmer
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
But there are other ways to view this novel that are potentially interesting.
For example: The Canal is a very boring novel about boredom. And that's perfect, isn't it? You are forced, by reading the book, to experience the very sensation the protagonist meditates upon so dully (Here is a typical yawner: "It is obvious to me now that most acts of violence are caused by those who are truly bored. And as our world becomes increasingly boring, as the future progresses into a quagmire of nothingness, our world will become increasingly more violent.").
The Canal might be about boredom as receptiveness, as a passive acceptance of chance and chance events. A few other reviews have commented on the fact that, though the book purports to be about boredom, soon after it starts things start happening. But these events never hook the characters into an actual story; there is repetition, but no development. Characters remain like icebergs, submerged and isolated. The narrator, in particular, is determined to be bored, which also means unengaged.
But Rourke also uses his premise as an excuse. He portrays the narrator as an excruciatingly shallow personality who acts without discernable motivation. Much of the book revolves around his obsession with a woman to whom he's only marginally attracted. His attraction persists despite the fact that he finds her character repulsive, and despite her rebuffs he approaches her in increasingly aggressive, creepy, ultimately frightening ways. Why? Because he's bored and boredom leads to violence? Because she's there?
OK, sure, he's an avatar of boredom - hallucinatory, violent, complacent. But what about the other characters? The woman? The street gang? All of the characters may as well be robots running the same program. None of them are even slightly human.
The only times I felt connected to the book were the few moments when random strangers would pop on stage to shout at the narrator: What are you doing! Go away! And I knew that if I were a character in the novel, I'd be one of those people.
Those momentary intrusions suggest that the author has at least a modicum of self-awareness. But even if The Canal was occasionally interesting, I wouldn't call it good. I mean, really. Can any book be good when it fetishizes a woman who mixes blood into her paintings and then declares unironically: "I paint because I will one day die. Because I want to die. Because I hate myself. Each time I destroy one of my paintings I am destroying a part of myself. I am a cliché and I like it that way."?
I don't think so.
Note: I received a free electronic copy of The Canal from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
If you stop to consider anything long enough, even boredom, you should be able to find interesting connections lurking beneath the otherwise banal surface. «When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you,» or whatever it was that Nietzsche said. Thing is, Rourke gives up staring into the canal after the first few pages. Stuff happens in the book & he loses sight of the initial boring premise. Which perhaps is the point--if you embrace boredom, stuff will happen. Boredom is only boredom if you are afraid of being bored. And boredom is in the eyes of the beholder. This claim that the novel is about boredom allows Rourke to deflect all criticism because he could just say that was his intent. Yes, it's a novel. It says so on the cover. I don't understand why sometimes novels need to declare themselves as such--is it to keep people from confusing it for something else? The book is published by Melville House, known to me primarily as Tao Lin's publisher. And I guess there's some similarities with Tao, as well as with Shane Jones, who blurbed the book. The book was short-listed for The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize, which is no surprise considering Rourke writes for The Guardian.
It's the kind of book you'd expect a book critic to write. He's obviously well-read & connected & able to draw on a lot of writer's before him. Besides the comparison to Beckett, at first i felt like it was being set up like Crime & Punishment. And there's the obvious nod to Tom McCarthy, though to compare the two belittles McCarthy. The stark dialogue reminded me a bit of David Mamet or Harold Pinter, though Rourke does this annoying thing where he'll just have a character repeat the same thing over & over (at one point a woman asks him "Do you like the canal then?" 14 times in a row--i can't imagine that happening in real life or on stage without someone slapping her after 3 or 4). The Guardian blurb on the back of the book (am i the only one who notices these blatant conflict of interests?) says: «Leading light of the self-styled Off-Beat generation, Rourke stakes his claim as heir apparent to greats such as Ballard, Joyce or Houellebecq.» Joyce, Houellebecq? Whitey, please. Maybe that's what he ... er ... i mean ... 'The Guardian,' means by 'self-styled'--Rourke is trying to style himself after these fine folks. Ballard, yeah, sure you can see where he tries to mimic Ballard with some success. In fact, there's a part where his female love interest runs over a stranger in her car in a just-for-the-hell-of-it Ballardian way (with a Camus twist). The object of his desire also has a fetish for suicide bombers. «Those extraordinary young men. I often dream about them, their brown skin. I speak to them in my dreams, I caress them in my dreams, I fantasize about them during the day,» she says. Ballard & others can get away with writing about sick anti-social things, but when Rourke tries to mimic him, it comes off as forced & not believable (not to mention racist). It's like how some comedians can go on a warped racist rant on stage because they are confident in their delivery or they are somehow justified & don't question themselves. It's not a talent everyone is born with.
The book is every bit as bleak and grey as the white-washed canal-side office block at which the protagonist spends his days staring, while any moments of beauty are rapidly erased and repeatedly eradicated by numerous mindless acts of petty destruction or violence. There is nevertheless a poignancy to Rourke's vision of the collective dystopia which we have made for ourselves and which somehow feels more obvious in big cities and this, I think, is centred in the simple fact that however meaningless the whole, for any individual there can only ever be the totality of their own experiences. And nothing can ever be any more meaningful than that.
This book is not an easy or a comfortable read; but it is a good one. Whether it will mean anything to you... well, that is largely up to you. It certainly won't be for everyone.