Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Book Review: Music for Torching - A.M. Homes

To celebrate the 200th review on Books, Time, and Silence, I will be re-posting 10 of my favourite reviews.

On day 9 it is A.M. Homes's wonderfully nihilistic
Music for Torching.

Read: July 2007

Music for Torching
in one tweet-sized chunk:
A delirious vision of suburban life gone wrong. Vitriolic, nihilistic, neurotic, it is a novel of scandalous normality, of impotence in the face of life.

Music for Torching is a huge blazing fire of a novel, consuming the vagaries of suburban family life like dry timber. Vitriolic, nihilistic, neurotic, it is a novel of scandalous normality, of impotence in the face of life. At times it reads like Revolutionary Road for the late twentieth century, there is that same trapped sense of powerlessness, that same longing for more, that same pressure to conform. I can’t remember when I was last so utterly hooked on a book within the first five pages.

Paul and Elaine’s marriage is burning out of control, they are isolated and atomised and horrified by what they have become. We first met them in a short story in The Safety of Objects when they enjoyed a hallucinogenic refrain from family pressures smoking crack while their children were away. Looking back on it in this book, they remember that as a moment of almost unimaginable happiness, as though it was the last time they felt united and whole. Now their nihilistic tendencies are tearing their household apart. In between passionless sex they bicker and nag, have affairs and wish they could make their lives good again. Their only pleasures involves dinner parties with their friends when they can bask in the impression of neighbourhood contentment.

The pressure is building, something has to give.

One night Elaine cannot face cooking. Paul offers to Barbecue. Egged on by their inanimate lives Elaine kicks over the barbecue setting the house on fire. Feeling deliciously liberated they get in the car and go for a meal with the children. But the house is not burnt to the ground, only gutted. Denied the cataclysmic freedom of total destruction Elaine and Paul can only try to rebuild, both the house and their fractured selves.

What ensues is a dark and claustrophobic journey through the frenzied minds of a couple desperately trying to recreate the image of family happiness. Cue all manor of sexual affairs, not to mention a crack team of house cleaners in space suits and the ubiquitous school hostage situation. But no matter how good and honest their intentions Paul and Elaine are never quite able to get hold of themselves, and bring everything back to how it should be. And normality is sucking them into a false sense of security.

Homes has a vibrant and to-the-point style of prose which makes her writing incredibly warm and inviting. Her characters are well conceived and brilliantly realised, flawed and infuriatingly lovable at the same time. She is concise and her vocabulary is exact; reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald in her ability to say a lot with few words. She is a very good writer and this is a very good book.

Music for Torching is a delirious technicolor vision of suburban life gone wrong. The Times review probably describes it best: “Homes doesn’t so much critique suburban American life as shoot it, stab it, chuck it in the boot of her car and drive it into a lake.” The exhilaration contained within these pages is difficult to diffuse, it is a glorious fire-cracker of a book and you are going to love it.

8.5 out of 10

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