Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Class Novel 2: "Joyride" by Guy Adams (2016)

contains SPOILERS

One of the advantages of fiction - indeed, one of the reasons we read it - is that it allows us inside others' heads. We all know the famous Atticus Finch quote from To Kill a Mockingbird: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Compassion is a fundamentally imaginative act, as Ian McEwan memorably said in a non-fiction piece he wrote in September 2001 that's significantly better than any of his own published fiction: an inability to understand the pain or suffering others would go through as a result of one's actions is a failure of imagination. But fiction helps us to go to those places we would never normally be able to visit or sojourn, as distant as any alien world: if the book is good enough, like Anna Karenina, I can feel as though I'm inside the head of an aristocratic 19th century Russian noblewoman, every aspect of which it's quite impossible for me to ever be myself. I can understand how Anna thinks and why she behaves as she does, because ultimately the book allows me to imagine my way into being Anna. Inability to understand why somebody acts in a particular way comes from an inability to see what's inside their head.

Guy Adams' Class tie-in novel, Joyride, takes the premise of "being in someone else's skin" and runs with it in as literal a manner as only science-fiction can. The story's central concept is just that -- hopping from one's own body into someone else's and subsequently wreaking damage, "joyriding" if you will. There are various ways in which this plays out, sometimes sinister, sometimes shocking, sometimes even darkly funny. By some way, I think, the opening stuff with Poppy's joyride (literally, since she steals a car, mows down several bystanders and then kills herself by driving into a building) and Max Collins killing his family by burning his house down is of a powerful heightened reality - eerie and shocking but unable to unsee, much like witnessing a car crash - which the rest of the novel never quite recaptures. This slightly creates the impression that the book peaks very early on and peters out a little after that, which is both a bit unfair but perhaps also not too wide from the mark.