Monday, October 27, 2008

Judging a book by its cover - Cham by Jonathan Trigell

Fiction is not something you’re normally going to read about on this site, but the other day I came across a book that grabbed my attention. I’m a pretty keen exponent of judging a book by its cover and this one ticked a lot of my boxes…

Judging the book by its cover
  1. The cover has a silhouette of a snowboarder – A rarely seen feature in book cover design but always a good sign… in my book.
  2. Said snowboarder is jibbing Mont Blanc – Getting better
  3. There loads of purple circles and dots everywhere - I really hate the colour purple. It is the most untrustworthy of colours. This is a set-back.
Despite the warning signs of the purple design, on the whole the front cover is good.

I forged on and decided to investigate the very depths of cover judging, by reading the back

Judging the book by its back cover

This is some of the synopsis…

“Deep Powder, dead poets and moral free-fall in the death-sport capital of the world.

Itchy has tried had with alcohol and adrenaline to numb a past he can’t atone for. Now a serial rapist is stalking Cham’s tourist-thronged streets, haunting the same shadows as Itchy and triggering and obsession which will lead him as far form Europe’s zenith, to the depths of the valley and himself.”

Some good points and some bad points with this:
  • Deep powder – Good
  • Dead poets – Bad. For starters this reminds me of…poetry. We all know that the only good poetry was from WWI and even then it only reduced that war to being less cool than the sequel.
  • Moral free-fall – Good
  • Death-sport capital of the world - Bad. What the hell is death-sport? I know winter sports can be a little dangerous, but as far as I have experienced, not everyone is guaranteed to die doing it (despite my mum’s fears).
  • Alcohol – Good
  • Adrenaline – Good
  • Serial rapist – Bad
  • Stalking – Bad, but not as bad as rape.
So a draw here. But with the front cover’s win and let’s face it, purely because there is a snowboarder on the cover, I decided to read the book.

The Author
There’s a little bit about the author at the start. Jonathan Trigell’s first book Boy A was a bit of a success and they made it into a TV show that I missed, but still that’s a good sign. The writer has been living and working in Chamonix for over 10 years so we should expect his knowledge of the town and mountains to shine through.

Chamonix - Located in the shadow of Mont Blanc

The Reading Bit

Initial reaction – Cheated! A few pages in and it turns out the geezer is a skier. My whole reason for reading this book, as I mentioned earlier was the snowboarder on the cover. Why have they stuck a snowboarder on the cover when the main character is a skier? This is just sick. I’m disappointed, not because I have some strange dislike of skiers hanging over from the 90’s, it just the lie. It hurts.

The main character, Itchy, is a miserable git. He’s really beginning to irritate me and I’m only a 1/3 of the way through. The internal monologue of the winey twat is getting to me. The characters in this story are really flat and you don’t get any sense of realism. Strangely everyone in the story has some deep mental trauma to deal with which the author immediately tells you about in some pretty crude characterisation. Seriously it’s like reading Catch 22 rewritten by Dan Brown.

Woo, now we are doing some powder skiing. The author describes the mountains well and does a pretty good job of explaining the feelings you get from skiing/snowboarding. However this character sure has some serious bad luck. He only goes out about four times a season as far as I can tell. Half the time he has a serious hangover and sits in a bar at the top of a mountain. The other half the time someone dies in an avalanche or falls down a crevasse. That’s the ever-present dangers of death-sports I guess.

Photo of actual death-sport
Chamonix 1924 - An eagle the size of a sperm whale attacked bobsledding Nazi fisherman.

What the hell is happening? There are whole chapters of strange poetry interludes and unrelated made-up stories written by this Itchy character in the style of Byron and Shelley. There are a few interesting bits of history about Chamonix but to sum these sections up, its unrelated nonsense. Please make it go away.

That rapist guy that cropped up at the start seems to have got a bit lethargic. Now most of the way through the book and that plotline has gone AWOL. This book doesn’t really have much of a plot. It’s basically just this fool Itchy rambling on about how much sex he gets (nice one fiction boy) and how emotionally confused he is.

It’s ended. Not much of a pay-off for the whole experience. I would never get tired of dry-slapping this Itchy lad.

Would I recommend it?

If you have done a lot of skiing or snowboarding, or if you live in Chamonix this might be worth a read for the novelty of the sport being in a fictional book. When I say it might be worth a read, I mean only if you have read every single other book in the shop first (tricky if you are shopping on Amazon). If you are anybody else, do not approach this book.

The front cover saga still hurts. I should’ve trusted more in the deceitful purple warning signs. Next time I judge a book by it’s cover I will be more careful.

If you still want to buy the book you can find it here.

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