The unnamed narrator of Rocks in the Belly
is nasty. I shall call him X. He shouts, snarls and seems to cynically use everyone who shows him kindness. He is not someone I would like to know. He is, in a word, unsympathetic. I find such characters intriguing; I want to read why X has turned out bad because, like X's mother I believe we are all born good. It becomes clear very early on that the thing that has turned X bad is, ironically, his mother. He has, in fact been Larkinised
. She didn't mean to cause him harm, but she did. The narrative pull then becomes why she did what she did, and what exactly happened as a result. It's that sense of disgust you feel when you know you're approaching a car crash. You know it's wrong to gawp, but you do anyway. You join the slow moving traffic because you have to.
The book is simply and compellingly written from the point of view of X at two ages: as a 28 year visiting his dying mother, and at 8 when the dreadful thing happened. Both are convincing. The 28 year old is complex, twisted and still hung up at what the 8 year old did. The wonderfully ironic thing is that what that 8 year old did is really not all that bad at all except in his own mind. It is this that makes the novel work: 'badness' turns out to be as indeterminate as beauty: purely in the eye of the beholder. That, to me, was the point.
Thanks to Serpent's Tail for sending me this excellent debut novel.