Sorry, that’s me trying hard to think about where to start with this book. Part of the reason for my recent absent from the blog is because I’ve been getting the house back in order after half term, but it’s also because I know I have this review to write but I don’t really want to get on with it. Why? Because deep down I feel a bit “meh” about it if I’m totally honest and that makes me feel awful seeing as I sort of asked for the book. I think I should have had a more positive experience with it, but my brain tells me otherwise.
Here’s the story. I eavesdropped on a twitter conversation about recommended reads and Habit was mentioned. I’d not heard of it, but looked it up. It comes from good stock; published by Salt, edited by Nick Royale who edited Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, the blurb enticed me (“a raw slice of urban menace…think Brett Easton Ellis on a writing break in the north of England” sounds right up my street!), I showed it to Mr FH with the words “This looks interesting” and wandered off to unload the dishwasher or do something equally as mundane. As it was coming up to my birthday, Mr FH ordered it as the birthday equivalent of a stocking filler present (my main present is a new pair of running shoes btw) and I was excited and surprised to receive it on the big day. I started reading it soon after that and finished it quickly, after all, it’s short at 166 pages. But now I feel a bit stumped.
Unemployed Michael meets Lee outside the job centre in Altrincham where she wheedles her way into his flat and life. Michael’s routine involves drinking binges at various bars and clubs, doing runners from black cabs, sleeping-in late and drinking tea. Lee fits in to this lifestyle immediately and she introduces Michael to her “Uncle” Ian at the 7th Heaven massage parlour where he is offered a job. Before he takes up his post as doorman he attends the club as a punter and experiences something strange, after this episode, the weirdness starts. The main premise of this story is a good one and was engaging enough, but that was about it where the narrative is concerned. Upon serious reflection (and I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this) it just didn’t go far enough. I’ve read Habit described as “brutal”, well I would say it wasn’t brutal enough or weird enough, the main characters were a bit thin and not really developed enough, there were a couple of interesting side stories that weren’t explored enough and could have provided this book with more depth. I guess that’s what I felt was lacking; depth. I also felt the book seemed a bit rushed out, it doesn’t feel quite polished enough.
The strengths of Habit are in Stephen McGeagh’s writing. The spare first person narrative is quite engaging and Michael’s thoughts are very readable. The sparse language is reflected in the constant tedious walks through Manchester city centre (which I know very well and so I walked with him), and endless boring journeys on the tram. McGeagh’s writing and description of inner city life manages to express the loneliness of living at close quarter to thousands of others yet existing in isolation and this is all done with no great drama, in fact, it is quite understated.
How I feel about this book, is that feeling you get when you know you’ve done something not quite as well as you could have done. McGeagh obviously has writing talent, but in my opinion, the end product has let him down.