LOUISE WELSH reading with DOUgLAS COUPLAND , JASPER FFORDE and DAN RHODES at the Premiere Dance Theatre, Tuesday (October 28), 8 pm.
LOUISE WELSH interviewed by Emily Pohl-Weary at the Lakeside Terrace, Thursday (October 30), 7 pm.
The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh (Canongate), 294 pages, $35.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Can women writ ers create realistic male characters? What about a promiscuous gay man? In The Cutting Room, Scottish first-time novelist Louise Welsh has come up with a most unusual protagonist in the form of auctioneer cum sleuth Rilke. While at a new job clearing out the house of a recently deceased wealthy man, Rilke discovers a stash of snuff photos. They seem to depict a young woman being stabbed to death while the photographer gets off. Deeply disturbed, he sets out to put together the pieces of a gruesome murder that happened decades earlier.
Along the way, he gets sidetracked by beautiful boys and bathroom quickies. Early in the book, he's even picked up behind the bushes in a park, along with "a new friend," and then released with a warning by a policeman who fooled around with him when they were children.
As a character, Rilke is eccentric and morally complex. Nothing's black-and-white in his world. He's also 90 per cent convincing as a man. While at times he seems too perceptive about women and the power dynamics at play, he is one of the most unique detectives I've come across in a mystery novel.
The reader grows to trust Rilke's judgment even when he's doing the craziest things, like carrying a drag queen's stash of drugs past police in exchange for a phone number. Sometimes the quickie bathroom sex is bizarrely detached and pointless. Rilke lacks compelling motivation for seeking an orgasm with almost every man he meets.
Welsh's novel was released to a rush of accolades. It's worthy of the praise, both literary and escapist. Rilke's world is suitably gritty and as dismal as the British weather. The Guardian selected it as one of Britain's best first novels of 2002. The intriguing question is, how does a second-hand bookstore owner who has never before written a book know so much about Glasgow's underworld?
I'll get a chance to ask Welsh about her research process and how she created such a convincing Rilke during my interview with her Thursday (October 30) at 7 pm.
NOW reviews books by the writers who bring the biggest buzz to the International Festival of Authors