Nell Zink’s writing is a bit left field, her storytelling quirky. Reading this book was a bit like seeing something in my peripheral vision and not quite being able to make out what it was. If you like oddness in fiction, then maybe you’ll like this. As I read it, I wasn’t convinced I was enjoying it much, only after, once I’d put it down and moved on to something else did I realise I appreciate it exactly because it’s not straightforward.
Administrator Tiff and scientist/twitcher/dubstep DJ Stephen have known each other all of 3 weeks when they decide to get married. They are selfish characters and their self absorption doesn’t change just because they are now a couple. The only momentary period of unity coincides with the pair nursing the titular Wallcreeper back to health having struck it while out driving, causing them to crash and putting Tiff in hospital for a couple of days.
This book is Tiff’s account of their chaotic romp through Europe moving from Eco cause to Green scheme in an effort to find personal meaning and yet it’s all done at such a superficial level you can’t help but think of them as slightly pathetic environmental activists. Tiff makes no apology for her half-hearted efforts to do something meaningful with her life. She admits wanting to avoid paid work for as long as she can get away with and is happy sponging off Stephen. They both have numerous affairs and make no attempts to hide them from each other, it’s all very disrespectful. They lurch from venture to venture with no real plan, spiralling further out of control as though being together compounds their ability and need to self destruct.
I couldn’t work out whether Tiff was a lazy, wet blanket of a woman or whether, a bit like Chris in I Love Dick, she was an ardent feminist by just getting on with what she pleased, because she could. The Wallcreeper is less intellectually challenging than I Love Dick, yet I was constantly reminded of Dick as I read it; the two books are very similar in tone, capturing female insecurity and determination in a comparable first person voice. This book is strongest though when Tiff and Stephen debate their existence. These are often witty, dry observations and well crafted sentences or paragraphs giving us a glimpse of Zink’s clear ability with words. My gripe is that these are few and far between and over too soon. I didn’t love this book, I didn’t dislike it either. I think the problem is that I’m not entirely convinced I knew what was going on. On the whole I’m fine with having questions when I finish a book, I’m just not that comfortable with feeling like I’ve missed the point but I defend Zink’s right to craft a narrative that leaves me wondering what the hell it was all about.