Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Breaking Bad: A "new" review from 11 months ago

Okay, so turns out I have some connected people who read this blog (well, at least one) and now I have the full text of the Taranaki Daily News’ review of A Man Melting that ran on 6 November 2011, which I mentioned yesterday.

To refresh your memories, I got a Google alert last week saying there was this review from back in November, but the link didn’t work.

The question is, why had no one brought this review to my attention? It couldn’t be bad, could it?

And it’s not, insofar as the review is clearly written, doesn't sit on the fence and is full of strange, eminently quotable put-downs...

A Man Melting, Reviewed by James O'Sullivan, Taranaki Daily News, 6/11/2010 
This is the first collection of stories from up-and-coming New Zealand writer Craig Cliff. Cliff is another product of the Bill Manhire MA writing degree in Wellington. Debate lingers as to the merits or lack thereof of such institutions. Do they nurture original and thought-provoking writing, or do they create a processed Mc-Literature? Reading this book, I am surprised I wasn't asked if I wanted fries with it. 
Cliff writes well enough. At least he steers clear of the literary excesses that plague a lot of New Zealand fiction. But too many stories in A Man Melting left me wondering what Cliff is trying to say, or even what he is trying to do. Stories ramble and go nowhere, leaving hapless readers wondering why they invested the time and cash into this book. 
Cliff's angle is realism; stories include couples having relationship troubles, a young professional having a career crisis, kids suffering from the bullies at school and so on. Some of the stories reflect Cliff's personal experiences, travelling, working in offices and living in Scotland. But there's another element. In one story, a man starts to melt. In another, extinct species start to come back to life. The thing about writing these "weird" kinds of stories is that if you're not Franz Kafka, you're probably not going to pull it off. Cliff is no Franz Kafka.
A typical story from this collection is Fat Camp, where a couple start up a camp for overweight children in Scotland. It's long, meandering and offers nothing more than the trite "trying to get through to the difficult kid at camp" storyline. 
Cliff does have writing skills, but he seems betwixt and between with this collection. There's just not enough in these stories for them to be good literature and yet they don't have enough dramatic plot or action to fit into a safe genre. Cliff needs to figure out what he wants to say and find the right way to say it. 


Actually, I laughed out loud a couple of times when I first read it.

My reaction might have been different if I’d read it back in November, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.

I’d just like to thank James O’Sullivan for holding no punches and giving me something to write about in my next column (I’ve already Googled Mr O’Sullivan and it seems he's written a few short stories in his time...).

For now, I just have to decide which quote to put up on my website...

‘Cliff is no Franz Kafka,’ perhaps?

‘I am surprised I wasn't asked if I wanted fries with it’?

Or the delightfully backhanded, ‘Cliff writes well enough’?

All gold.


Anonymous said...

I think you should go with the pull-quote "Cliff does have writing skills". Because yes. Yes he does. Yes you do...
KB (Guess who) :)

Anonymous said...

A chance to get your own back?

James O'Sullivan.

Craig Cliff said...

Ha, I don't think taking turns hatcheting each other's work is the best use of our time and energies. But I'll add it to my To Read list, for sure.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing like a good literary stoush to liven up the scene. Twitter accounts at ten paces? Actually, being a hobbiest writer myself, I was always pretty sympathetic to writers, knowing what goes into writing a book, during my stint as a reviewer. However, in the end, a reviewer reviews for the reader, not the writer. But I was always hoping to come across a NZ novel of the caliber of a Morrieson, Hyde, Frame, Ballantyne et al, and I never did. I really do fear for NZ's literary scene.

James O'Sullivan.