Filler content with film

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #34 back in 2003:-

Sean Condon
Fourth Estate pb, 281pp, £10.99

From the earliest age Henry Powdermaker is fascinated by movies, making his own films with the help of his actor father, but when Henry turns eight he unwittingly causes a rift in his parents’ marriage through his adventures in movie making. His father walks out, blaming Henry for the break-up. Henry is traumatised and cannot bear to watch films though his love of the form persists. His friend Madeleine watches them in his place and acts out the scripts for him, something of which she eventually tires. The years march on, Henry trying over and over again to get into Film School and failing, carrying on with boring jobs and making his own home movies, projects that inevitably blight all his personal relationships. On occasion he takes leave of reality completely, such as the time when he thinks he is Cary Grant and has to see a psychiatrist. Finally he decides to go off to Hollywood and seek his fortune, abandoning his significant other to a scheming actor. Henry eventually finds a producer interested in his script, but the man’s plans are not what Henry had in mind. He revolts and rejects the money grubbing Hollywood ethos, subsequent to which, of course, everything that he wants falls into his lap. He is able to put his life on a sound basis and get the girl. Ah!

There are some interesting ideas here, such as the use of film shooting techniques at times in the text and it has its moments of genuine humour. The trouble is that on the whole it is all moments. You don’t get the impression of a plot or life story unfolding so much as a series of random incidents, most picked for their oddness and stuck together in the hope that something will gel. And it doesn’t, is never more than the sum of its parts. Simply put it’s a book that tries too hard to be different and off the wall, bringing back memories of wonderfully oddball novels such as A Prayer for Owen Meany and Myra Breckenridge, but with none of their virtues or style. Henry is nothing more than a bundle of bad habits hoping to pass inspection as a human being and presented to the reader on the principle that odd must be interesting. Even at the end when it claims to reject the Hollywood ethos, it wallows in reversal of fortune and the subsequent feel good factor beloved of so many kitsch box office winners with perfect cynicism. I found it ramshackle and profoundly disappointing.

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