Dan

M John Harrison
Signs of Life

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Signs of Life by M John Harrison is the first book I've read by this author, of whom I'd only recently heard due to comments by Clavain, and despite the fact that I didn't love this book, it won't be the last. 

The storyline essentially concerns the relationship between Mick (who goes by China, for reasons obviously clear to the author, but completely obscure to me) and Isobel, a women half his age. It's not exactly a love story, more a tale of addiction, obsession, cathection, and special relationships masquerading as love. Mick, and his partner Choe, an easily bored sociopath with criminal tendencies, addicted to adrenaline amongst his other chemical dependencies, are involved in some very sketchy business dealings regarding the disposal of biological and genetic waste. And Isobel is a woman who dreams of flight, and will go to bizarre and unnatural ends in pursuit of her goal. 
My biggest problem with this book was that it was an insult to my ignorance 😏. Choices of brands of clothing, cars and stereos, and tastes in music, movies and books, stand in for character description, and I often didn't understand the references. And parts of London, and towns in the UK, apparently meant specific things to Harrison, but I was clueless as to what they were. 
This book was filled with symbolism, but rather than Jungian archetypes or Greek mythology, the symbols were cultural. In fact after the first 50 pages I started calling this book Symbols of Modern Life, rather than Signs of Life. It is a very hip book, but I ain't a very hip guy. Although I do think that if the culture had been American rather that EuroBrit I'd have understood more of the references. 
This novel was also overly ambiguous for my tastes, although it might not seem so to those who get Harrison's allusions. And he certainly doesn't tell you how to think about the situations and events of this book, but to the point where I wasn't entirely sure what he thought of them. 
Those complaints aside there was much to like about this book. The characters were intriguing, if not particularly likable, or even sympathetic. And Harrison clearly was making points about the human desire to profane the sacred, as well as the occasional person with the welcome ability to find beauty in the midst of ugliness, and peace amongst the chaos. The prose itself was striking and clear, even if the purpose of those words wasn't so transparent. All in all I'm glad I read this, and will explore more of M John Harrison's work. 3.5 stars

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Have just ordered this.  Finding that a book is difficult to get - Amazon doesn't have it - always makes it more attractive to me.  Sucker that I am.  I'm sure that I'll get the British references, though.

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