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I started almost as soon as I received this and have to say it's not the kind of book I would generally read. This is not neccesarily a bad thing as one of the reasons I come here is to expand my reading experience.

However, I feel the reviews on the back of the book are somewhat misleading
or I am just completely missing the point. There is no way at all I would call it "drop-dead funny" or even "brimming with life". In fact I feel a great sense of despondency at the stories that are unfolding. Truly I feel so depressed at the lives being described. They seem small,sad and self centred, use and (self)abuse being paramount.

I find the swapping between voices interesting, the contrast between short, laconic sentences and longer more involved ones being in some way indicative of the particular character but the omission of speech marks really upsets me in some parts of the narrative.

I want to know what happens but have a feeling that I will leave the book on a distinct down note, I hope I am wrong.



As a footnote the quality of the book is lovely, nice clear print,well laid out and pleasing (to the touch) cover.

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However, I feel the reviews on the back of the book are somewhat misleading or I am just completely missing the point. There is no way at all I would call it "drop-dead funny" or even "brimming with life".

Those 'puffs' refer to McNay's previous novel, Fresh.

 

I am about two thirds of the way through now, so should be finishing tonight. Hopefully I can post my thoughts tomorrow. But for now, I have enjoyed the portrayal of Gary, if not Gary as a character. He began as a seemingly nice guy trying to get on with life and leave drugs behind...and with every page turn, he is gradually revealed as this mean, violent, controlling thug. I am wondering how far he can go.

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Yes, it must be a very, very different sort of novel! It will be interesting to read the comments of people who have read both. I've just finished reading Under Control and I do think it had some funny moments. I might write a proper review later but I thought I'd post a few random thoughts now while it's fresh.

 

I was particularly interested in the character of Nigel the social worker and the way his manipulativeness becomes increasingly apparent as the story progresses. I don't think he is quite as believable as a character as Charlie the prostitute, however - partly because I can't really understand how he is meant to be drawn to his sort of career. I suppose you could argue that his behaviour (eg lying about the nature of his relationship with Charlie when Gary is getting committed) is a defensive manouvre because he doesn't want to get in trouble with his wife but there's no real indication in the story that he doesn't always behave this way. Why would such a bright, selfish person be a social worker, rather than earn more money doing something else? I didn't find him as three dimensional or as carefully drawn as Charlie, who I did find myself believing in.

 

The way their lives interact with each other is what drives the plot, and it's quite gripping to read. Once again (we've dicussed it elsewhere on BGO) the idea of madness in fiction becomes a real issue.

It took me a while (I think this is deliberate on the author's part) to realise who Galileo was and what he had to do with the story, and I have to admit the revelation was more of a disappointment than a shock. I was hoping he was going to mean more than that, although I'm not sure what it could have been.

 

It wasn't so much that he existed that detracted from the story so much as that his internal consistency seemed incredible. Gary is meant to be quite mad, and to recognise Galileo as some sort of projection - he tells Galileo this at one point - but to me he was simply too much of a sane person's conception of what a 'voice' would be like.

I don't know if McNay has much experience talking to delusional people but in my own experience with people who have mental problems, it is their completely nonsensical beliefs that are most striking. Paranoia and voices just aren't consistent. I wish the story didn't reply so much upon it.

 

All in all, though, quite a gripping read. As a character, Charlie is something of a revelation. Too many writers go for the 'whore with the heart of gold' stereotype but Charlie has been well thought out, and has a real depth. The 'revelation' that her uncle abused her as a child was a rare clumsy slide into the now-conventional abuse-victim theme, but the story didn't dwell on it so that's perhaps forgivable. Wanting to find out how she would deal with the predatory men around her, and if she would get into rehab, was one of the main reasons I kept on reading.

 

I'm looking forward to finding out what the rest of you thought.

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Gripping is not the word I would use. I finished the book in the hope that something would happen to make me feel it was worthwhile. It didn't, even the final big event was sort of expected.

 

I couldn't warm to any of the characters, to me they just seemed stereotypes. As to why Nigel was a social worker exactly because he was selfish, interfering and not quite bright enough. Charlie evoked a touch of sympathy but I found her too manipulative and shallow. I agree Kimberley that the abuse was not particuarly well handled.

 

 

I asked myself a couple of questions - did I enjoy the book? not really.

would I recommend it? Possibly but not to anyone I can think of at this moment.

 

 

In fact it sort of reminded me of the sort of book that is written after a tv drama to fill in the story, it strikes me as very much a screenplay waiting to happen.

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Under Control is an uncomfortable read.

 

It tells a simple story - the love triangle - with a bit of a twist. Gary is a psychiatric patient, out in the community. Nigel is his social worker, and Charlie is his heroin-addicted girlfriend. The twist to the age-old story is that each is trying to manipulate the others. Each feels they are in control and that the others are under control.

 

The discomfort starts from the outset. The writing style seems very simple, monosyllabic. One wonders whether this is a novel aimed at young adults or adults with literacy difficulties. The viewpoint lurches from third person (in which Gary first appears) to Gary’s first person narration. And then there is a mysterious story of Galileo, a French Foreign Legionnaire. At first, it feels as though there is a different character coming in every few pages, and it is terribly disjointed. It does start to gel, though, and the strands of story are not quite as numerous as it first seems. In fact, it’s quite a tight little plot.

 

The characters are quite complex, in their own little ways. Gary is bright, inquisitive, quite mad and with a violent and sadistic sexual drive. Adding to the discomfort of the reader, there are passages in which Gary’s fantasies stray dangerously close to articulating the fantasies you might find in the school role playing game club. One isn’t sure whether it is brilliance or just plain embarrassing. Nigel is the kind of social worker who has a facade of helping others and doing good whilst actually just enjoying changing people’s lives. It seems pretty immaterial to him whether he changes them for better or for worse. One imagines that his actions are probably more often on the side of the angels, but from expedience rather than altruism. And Charlie... Charlie, named after one drug and hopelessly addicted to another. Charlie is a charmer, but one who lies and cheats and schemes, apparently for the sheer fun of it. Like Gary, she is bright. Unlike Gary, she is not mad. But her Achilles heel is a compulsive behaviour that runs through her addictions, her lying, her sex (she works as a prostitute).

 

And all three deceive themselves as much as they deceive anyone else.

 

There are also some brilliant cameo characters. In particular, Itchy Chris, useful because he has a car and no brain, is very vividly drawn. One can imagine this dirty, hunched character scratching himself and drooling all the time, desperate to be included in the plans.

 

And throughout things, there is a page turning quality to the novel. Although the various characters are pretty revolting, none is totally without charm. They have enough intrigue, at any rate, to create a sense of expectation - a fascination with what is actually happening. And what it is ain’t exactly clear..

 

But there is perhaps too much madness. This creates some chapterettes that are initially intriguing but ultimately distracting. Madness, you see, is about the gap between the cognitive functions of the mad and the sane. That leads to a lack of coherence that is distancing and dull. There is inevitably a compromise between true madness and something that will fit a plot driven novel, and Under Control is no exception. (For a true portrayal of schizophrenia, try The One by Paul Reed - apparently it is very accurate, but as a consequence it is heavy going and extremely distancing.)

 

Overal, Under Control probably achieves what Mark McNay set out to achieve, and does it with some aplomb. But the nature of the story and characters will alienate many, and the inherent sense of discomfort with deter others.

 

I feel a bit harsh, but probably ****o

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I finished this book last night, and I am caught between 2 and 3 stars.

 

Initially, I liked Gary in the sense that he seemed like a decent guy, trying to get back on his feet after being an addict and doing normal, everyday things like painting his flat. But little by little this sense of Gary was eroded. Through the change to a first-person narrative, we gained access to his thoughts and feelings as he perceived the people and world around him. This revealed some nasty stuff and a thoroughly nasty man, though mental illness is soon revealed to be the root of his problems - obviously exacerbated by drugs.

 

The rest of the narrative, in third person, introduced us to the characters in Gary's life; Charlie his prostitute girlfriend, Nigel his social worker, and Chris his quiet, mousey friend, ripe for manipulation.

 

Charlie, I did actually think was a bit of a modern tart-with-a heart. She loves Gary despite his brutality and often, indifference. But she manipulates and weaves webs around men for her own ends. One thing that bugged me though was the constant assertions of her outstanding beauty - it was lazy. Yes, she can be a prossie, but let's make her beautiful, unrealistically so. Let's not have a squalid depiction of a junky-prostitute more befitting realism, let's make her a junky-prostitute-princess-model. That really grated. (I am not saying that there isn't beautiful women who happen to be prostutites, it's just that this lazy, male, fantastical representation didn't do the book any favours.)

 

Nigel, a seemingly lovely and idealistic man, slowly erodes to reveal a man abusing his place of power and playing with these rather sad lives to his own end. This, for me, was the most interesting aspect of the novel - especially his utter denial, it doesn't even register with him at the end what he has done really. His vast indifference, an ironic contrast with his choice of career. But then, for him, it was a career that gave him power over those that didn't prove too much of a challenge and wouldn't be believed should they complain.

 

I agree that the prose is rather simple, at times ungrammatical (but this is a proof and most probably will be changed on publication - or so the insert says). Too simplistic and too graphic at times, which the central premise doesn't require. It's a gritty world, yes, a dirty world, but that can be conveyed better I think when your plot isn't necessarily about that world.

 

So, 2 stars for the problems outlined, but quivering above 3 because it was engaging - Nigel's morality interested me, and Chris's downslide, so easily achieved was quite sad.

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mmmmmmmmm...couldn't justify 3 stars, sorry

in fact, to be honest, struggle to give it 2*.

I notice from an Amazon review of his previous novel, that he switches

between 1st & 3rd person narratives. The same technique is used here,

but I'm afraid I found that confusing and annoying.especially as I didn't

connect with any of the main characters. I also didn't like the setting, (or lack thereof...it was quite a bit into the story before you find out even the town/city it is set in). I guess that I just like to associate, or sympathise with

at least 1 of the main characters, and couldn't do that.

Overall, I think the word to describe the book is..bleak.

 

Did I enjoy it? sorry, no

Would I recommend it?...only to fans of Irvine Welsh etc

Will I read more from this author?...doubt it, may look at his first- if it is the same 1st/3rd person..no commas in speech, full of 4 letter words and graphic sex (& I'm not prudish!)- then probably not

Would I have bought it in a bookshop? probably not, for the same reasons, after flicking through it.

 

 

Sorry to be so negative, just didn't work for me

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Would I recommend it?...only to fans of Irvine Welsh etc
Funny you should say that, I've suggested to MOH that he reads it as he is a fan of Irvine Welsh. However, saying that, I have enjoyed a couple of Welsh's books but can't say that enjoy is the right word for Under Control. I guess you are not supposed to "enjoy" this book as the story is not based on an enjoyable theme. (Far too many "enjoys" in that sentence, sorry).

 

The story was grim and harsh and sadly didn't interest me at all. I feel that the fate of the three main characters was fairly predictable, perhaps it was meant to be??

 

I also find the switching between first and third person confusing and annoying - it didn't help the flow of the book and made it even harder to engage with the characters

 

I tried McNay's first book when it was published and didn't finish it as I couldn't get on with it but thought I would give it a second go with this one. It pains me to say that I probably won't try his third book - it just isn't my kind of thing.

 

I'm sorry to say that I will find it hard to recommend to anyone - saying that though, if anyone wants my copy to read and make up their own mind please PM me and I'll happily pass it on :rolleyes:

 

My rating? It pains me to say it but I'm afraid I'm only going to give it * - maybe ** if I feel generous.

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I'm sorry other people didn't enjoy the book. I know it wasn't a comfortable read but I thought it was different to Irvine Welsh (based on reading none of his novels but I have seen Trainspotting). There are obvious parallels in terms of drugs and swearing, but they are really not uncommon in modern society. I thought that Under Control was principally character driven,whereas I suspect that Welsh is mainly plot driven. And although each of the characters was flawed, I think each also had enough redeeming features to build some kind of emotional bond - even if that was sadness and frustration when they let their flawed side take over.

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I finished this yesterday and find myself struggling a bit to describe how I felt about it. Enjoyable certainly isn't the right word but I did find it captivating. As the story progressed I found myself being more and more repulsed by each of the characters and as others have said I could tell where each of them were headed. The thing I liked most about this book was the realness of it, I don't know anyone who takes drugs or who suffers from mental health problems to that degree but I imagine that their lives are very much like this book, living each day to make enough money to feed their habit. There was no gripping storyline because there didn't need to be, real life for an addict, I imagine, doesn,t hold many surprises. I liked this a lot and it get's 5 stars from me. I have now bought McNay's other book, Fresh, and I'll look forward to reading it. Thankyou Canongate once again for an excellent book. :)

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I'm pleased to see a couple of favourable reviews coming through as although it isn't my favourite reads of the year I do think it was quite good at what it set out to do.

 

I'm particularly intrigued by this comment of Billybob's,

 

I did find it captivating. As the story progressed I found myself being more and more repulsed by each of the characters

 

In retrospect, that aspect of the narrative was really well done. I actually recall sympathising with the therapist character at the start (probably because I was being a careless reader and looking for someone to sympathise with) - which made it all the more confronting when his manipulativeness was revealed.

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Billybob, your post made me think again about the book and I tried to think about it in a different light....

 

I can see what you mean that perhaps is wasn't meant to be engaging but just reflect real life - but it just wasn't the kind of real life that I wanted to read about. Now I don't necessarily want to read about life's nice things all the time but I just didn't like the personalities in the book.

 

You may well have helped me changed my rating from a 1 star but only just. Perhaps I prefer to live in my sheltered world :rolleyes:

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You may well have helped me changed my rating from a 1 star but only just. Perhaps I prefer to live in my sheltered world :rolleyes:

I see your sheltered world is Kent. I grew up in Maidstone and one week the Kent Messenger reported a police drugs raid on my school. The inspector said afterwards: "although we didn't find any drugs, we did find a packet of herbal tea".

 

I can see that heroin is a step beyond herbal tea ;)

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I see your sheltered world is Kent.
It is at the moment as I moved here for my job - a job that I've since left so I'm looking to move back to my sheltered life in Surrey :)

 

Interestingly MOH is now reading Under Control and is loving it - I've even heard him laugh out loud (I must remember to ask which bit tickled him). Plus he's an Irvine Welsh fan.

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Just finished this today and :

 

Wow! A very thought provoking read giving the reader a realistic insight into the world of drugs and mental illness.

 

Initially, I found the style a little confusing and unorthodox as it jumped suddenly from one character to another which took a little while to become accustomed to - but found it worked incredibly well and, given the nature of the novel, on reflection, believe it to be extremely clever. This is, after all, the world of drugs, paranoia and the stark, cruel and tragic effects which are being played out throught the three main characters - Gary, Nigel (Gary's social worker) and Charlie (Gary's girlfriend).

 

Under control is both disturbing and heart-warming - a very light read which, refreshingly, does not involve laborious descriptive detail; purely because there is no requirement for it.

 

I have not had the opportunity of reading Mark McNay's debut novel, Fresh - but would certainly look forward to doing so after reading Under Control.

 

Brilliant, unique and invigorating. Thanks Canongate. Five stars from me. ;)

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I have read all the comments posted with a great deal of interest, and, on reflection, I must congratulate Canongate on selecting a novel which seems to have divided the reponses into (mainly) loved/hated it (hated is a bit strong, disliked is closer)

I don't know if that was the original intention, or just "pot-luck" as to who

was fortunate enough to receive the "freebie", but must admit that I pushed the TBR pile to one side in order to read it.Even though I am a "neggie" to this book , I am a definite "possie" to the concept that Canongate has instituted, and would love to chance my arm on the next choice.

 

Again, well done Canongate

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As the story progressed I found myself being more and more repulsed by each of the characters and as others have said I could tell where each of them were headed.
I agree with BB and Kim that this was a success of the novel - there was an engaging shift with each of the characters that frequently made me reassess of they were goodies or baddies. And I didn't quite know where they were going to end up. Certainly, that drove the story along with momentum.

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I'm really glad there are differing opinions on Under Control. I agree it isn't an easy read -- Mark McNay writes pretty gritty stuff. I would compare him with Bret Easton Ellis, as I've read more of his stuff that Irvine Welsh (I've only read Trainspotting but I do have Filth on my TBR pile). Bret Easton Ellis definitely writes novels that are seriously cringe-inducing at time.

 

I read Under Control early this year, so my personal impressions are a bit faded. I, too, have no real experience of working with drug addicts, prostitutes and/or the paranoid schizophrenic, so I felt a bit more 'detached' as I read this novel. But I did like it, and am not going to say too much more since I work for the publisher.

 

(I live in a small town in West Central Scotland, so reading Fresh was like looking out of my window!)

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I would compare him with Bret Easton Ellis, as I've read more of his stuff that Irvine Welsh
With respect, I think that is crediting McNay with bit more talent than he actually has. Yes, he and BEE write gritty, graphic realism, but BEE's novels have a huge sense of place and style, they capture the zeitgeist of their time - all of which I felt, not lacked, but wasn't necessarily the point of McNay's writing. It is a gritty, modern urban tale - but not in the realms of BEE.

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Incidentally, Under Control[/size=4]was reviewed by Allan Massie in the Scotsman on Saturday. I can

scan the article and email it if anyone is interested. (Just got round to reading Saturday's supplement today :D )

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Incidentally, Under Controlwas reviewed by Allan Massie in the Scotsman on Saturday. I can scan the article and email it if anyone is interested. (Just got round to reading Saturday's supplement today :D )
It would probably be less time consuming just to link to it, like this.

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It would probably be less time consuming just to link to it, like this.
Thanks for that Stewart, I tried to find it earlier and couldn't. Obviously.

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With respect, I think that is crediting McNay with bit more talent than he actually has. Yes, he and BEE write gritty, graphic realism, but BEE's novels have a huge sense of place and style, they capture the zeitgeist of their time - all of which I felt, not lacked, but wasn't necessarily the point of McNay's writing. It is a gritty, modern urban tale - but not in the realms of BEE.

 

Maybe, but they are writing about very different places and times. I was meaning to compare the discomfort people feel when reading their novels, not their respective talent or quality.

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