Friday, June 15, 2012

I Got His Blood on Me and Teju Cole

I'm reading my friend, Lawrence Patchett's, debut book of short stories at the moment, I Got His Blood on Me. It was brilliant, obviously, and I am biased, but having known Lorry for quite a while and been to many group workshops where he has read my poems and provided feedback on others' work, I think I've only actually read a handful of his stories. Most of which were unfinished and in an early draft, so I am partially fresh on these I think.

And that was proven in the very first story which carries the title of the book. I read an early draft of this story and at that stage it was only about a third of its current length and had some 'time-travel' paradox type issues from my point of view. But wow, how much richer, more complex and more balanced it is now. I am so impressed with his ability to rework something. And that is one thing I know about Lorry, he is the hardest working writer I know. His stories are long  and complex and I know from talking to him he wrestles with them, with the characters, the plot, the structure.  It's not easy for him to write a story, which may sound like a revelation, but it's not. Most of writers I know struggle horribly with their writing, a story or poem can be a bit like a pit bull terrier at times, it locks its jaws on to you and won't let go. You can pull it by its back legs, put a hose in its mouth, but in the end you just have to hang in there, persevere with it. And what happens in the end is the reader gets a perfectly formed work like 'I Got His Blood on Me', the reader oblivious to all the work that has gone on behind the scenes.

I went and saw Teju Cole at Unity books a couple of days ago. He was incredibly smart and interesting and I want to read Open City very much. He also has a beard and bald head. I like that. One interesting thing he said about his book is that he is interested in the narrative of small moments, of individual sentences and then the narrative of the grand idea behind the book. It's the bits in between, commonly known as plot, that he is not so interested in. Fair enough point of view I think and an interesting way to write a novel, more poem-like or short-story like perhaps, but interesting all sameBut part of me thinks, why can't we have all three, why can't we have the sentence, the  plot and the theme? If you can nail all those at once, that is a truly great work of art I think.

I Got His Blood on Me attempts to do just that. The plot is clear, simple, right there on the page. The motives are explained, the characters are tangible, you don't have to scratch your head reading between the lines, there's no ambiguity (at least not from the author anyway). On a simple story level, they are a pleasure to read. But then you dig down, burrow below and there is that other stuff, the crafted moments and descriptions, and of course the smattering of grand ideas - the appropriation of history, biography and the life of the 'other'. And there's no cheesy, easy endings either, this is a work of literature, you have to think to get the full value out of it. But if you just want a good old 'romp' - these stories will provide that in spades.

I will be reading more I Got His Blood on Me soon and will get back on that.

Note: I also liked Teju's comment that he wants to 'use the least complex words to describe the most complex ideas'. That one's still sitting with me.

Lorry has his own website now. See the 'links' section.


  1. I just finished reading I Got HIs Blood on Me and it's easily the best book I've read this year. I agree that the stories are layered and incredibly well crafted. Everyone is going to get this book for Xmas :-) Interested to read Open City. I'll look out for it in a bookstore.

  2. Gosh I know. Might even get to a Scotland xmas via L's Dad.

    Just finished the ghost/hologram one. Awesome description of a government meeting.


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