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Under Control - General Discussion

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I was meaning to compare the discomfort people feel when reading their novels, not their respective talent or quality.
Well, granted, that is a common link, though the shudder I get when I think of Patrick Bateman's use for rats, I think will go unsurpassed for quite some time.

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Well, granted, that is a common link, though the shudder I get when I think of Patrick Bateman's use for rats, I think will go unsurpassed for quite some time.

 

Mine was the shower scene in Glamorama. I read that entire chapter with my jaw dropped in horror.

 

But we digress...

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Just started this, have skimmed over all of your comments so far and have a general impression of things.

 

So far I'm engrossed. I have high hopes for Garry as a character. I have rated dark books in the past, hope this is another one that I don't "enjoy," but like as a reading experience.

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I was interested in the Scotsman reviewer's noting that McNay is a UEA creative writing graduate and then commenting on how the novel would have benefited from a lot of tightening. A former colleague of mine was firmly of the opinion that the main benefit with creative writing programs is the editing advice that teaching staff give developing writers, because publishers spend so much less time editing manuscripts these days than used to be the case.

 

I wonder if having been completed as part of McNay's UEA program could be the reason why Fresh was, apparently, a more successful novel than this one? I found this novel worthwhile enough to be curious... once I read Fresh for myself, I'll make up my mind.

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Under Control is a good book. I'll state that now because what I'm about to write might sound negative, but we'll see.

The main premise of the narrative is a power struggle, or rather many power struggles. A few characters fight powerful addiction, some struggle with living life itself, Nigel finds himself struggling within a relationship and Gary fights with his inner demons. To me the "plot" is about how each character fights against each of there problems and uses their situation and the people they are surrounded by to keep their lives "under control". They do things to make themselves feel powerful, like they are their own masters.

I think this is quite a general feeling that a lot of people have had. It's something that the daily grind of life can instill. It's usually part of the reason people take spontaneous holidays or buy Harley Davidson's or for Nigel, cheat on their wives. Having said that, this is a very heightened depiction of that idea, and it's just a small association that I've made.

 

Now for the problems, a lot of the difficult themes were handled well, but I feel like I've read books where they were done better. The paranoia and madness was described in an interesting narrative but it wasn't as intense as a few of the Philip K. Dick books I've tried.

It was the same with the violence and sex (He's been mentioned earlier), Brett Easton Ellis will always been the high water mark in my mind.

 

But for this book, these characters and this plot it is all superbly balanced, if one strand is tackled and made harder or grittier it would throw the other strands off.

 

The most memorable section of the book for me was the chapter describing how each couple interacted. Gary and Charlie had a day at the seaside while Nigel and his wife went out walking. The chapter jumped between the two.

Nigel's relationship seemed comfortable yet stilted and a little wary, while Gary and Charlie seemed really happy and suited. That passage was a surprise and briefly warmed my heart for the couple that seemed to be set on self-destruction.

 

In an earlier post I mentioned my high hopes for the development of Gary's character, I wasn't completely disappointed but felt like there might have been a little more room for expression, most of his "madness" is portrayed through threats and imaginings, but he is actually quite controlled in his actions, obviously this deteriorates towards the end with his 'model.'

 

Nigel is an odd character, I did wonder what his motives were for a lot of the things he did. The only reason I can see why he began helping Charlie was her beauty, and I don't find that a believable enough reason. I like the idea that someone else pointed out on an earlier post that he likes to manipulate others for the sake of it, weather he helps or not isn't the issue as long as he sees some sort of change that he can accredit to himself. In the end he seemed very weak and pathetic, more so in fact than the addicts that he was, at one point, trying to help.

 

The sideline story of Chris and his all too easy descent into the world of drugs was disturbing, especially how Gary orchestrated it and oversaw it with such satisfaction. The climax to his story was a little understated though I thought.

 

As for Charlie, I found her very well written, the beauty thing that Hazel mentioned is a very good qualm, but out of all of the character her actions and motives are the easiest to decipher, which might make her the most accessible character to a reader.

 

Overall I thought this was a very good book, grim and simple, it whipped along at a good pace and was easy to read which surprised me considering it's content.

 

As for the ending, I really liked it, it gave me that little heart warming flicker I had experienced in the 'relationship' chapter that I described earlier. I found it refreshing that the only character without 'problems' came off worse, but that is a debatable point I guess.

 

EDIT: Thanks Canongate, another good choice.

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