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by Mark Piggott

Reviewed by Elaine Connell

Behind Blue Eyes is the first novel of writer and journalist Mark Piggott who grew up in Hebden Bridge.

It is published by reedmee.com a company which specialises in providing quality electronic books written by promising writers. Costing £3.50 the book can either be read on screen or printed out by the reader.

For a time I thought I found this very well written book disturbing because of the new experience of reading a novel on the computer instead of in my hand. However, even when I printed out part of the last half of the work I still felt very unsettled and began to appreciate that the sense of unease and dislocation which pervades this novel is part of a well crafted intention on the part of its author, rather than a product of the medium in which it is presented.

The book charts the life of Joe Corgan an alcohol fuelled journalist in his early thirties. His life is fragmented between families, countries, regions, social classes, relationships and the reader is given a fascinating insight into the intelligent, tortured yet still humorous consciousness of a young man who does not belong anywhere yet clearly deserves to be somewhere significant.

His London is a nightmarish world peopled by drunken Irishmen, sordid tabloid editors making deals with Protestant paramilitaries, transvestite prostitutes, kidnappers and unspecified characters who torture and torch people and buildings. Joe’s friends and lovers prove faithless and one is left with the impression of an abandoned hero surveying the drunken wreckage of his life.

This cleverly created sense of isolation whilst being surrounded by people is what is most disturbing about this novel. I found that I wanted to jump into the narrative to clean Joe’s grotty flat, wash his clothes, persuade him off the drink and back to his native Brigden which is an only partially disguised Hebden Bridge. There are very few modern novels that evoke this type of reaction and it is a measure of Mark Piggott’s skill as a writer that he can inspire such a response. The last time I wanted to enter the narrative of a novel was to shake the wimpy Angel Clare in Hardy’s Tess of the Durbervilles.

In Behind Blue Eyes we are also presented with men who can display their vulnerability without appearing weak or effeminate. Yet even though much of what Piggott writes is upsetting, the novel throughout is tinged with a dry and bitter sense of humour which frequently made me laugh out loud.

I already felt sorry for “Generation X”, those people now aged between 25–35 who have not enjoyed the relatively excellent education, social welfare and employment opportunities of their parents, the post-War baby boomers. This book illustrates just how overwhelming the contrast is between those who were young adults in the 60’s and 70’s and those who came to maturity during the 80’s. If for no other reason, people should read this book to experience what lies behind the cynicism, lack of idealism and dearth of belief in the possibility of social change which so many of us,who were formed by the 60’s, have noticed in the following generation. Although not an overtly political book Behind Blue Eyes demonstrates the bleak destruction of the individual spirit which occurred during the Thatcherite Cultural Revolution almost as inexorably as it did during the Maoist one. There is a nihilist strand running through this book which can be seen as “Generation X’s” Heart of Darkness.

The book has the pace and some of the features of a thriller and whilst it is worth reading in its electronic form I look forward to its publication as a more traditional book when I will certainly buy it again.

Behind Blue Eyes
Published by reedmee.com
Available online only: £3.50

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