Last year I enjoyed Jeremy Dyson’s off-kilter, Roald-Dahl-gone-extra-bad visions in the short story collection ‘Never Trust a Rabbit’. I’d been intending to read more by him when I got the chance, so this year I snapped up his novel at the library.
With parts set in the 1980s, and hopping back and forth to the present day, ‘What Happens Now’ took a little while to get going, but that seemed to be a deliberate method to ease the reader into the inner worlds of screwed up minds and early teenage heartache. Once I got into the flow it really drew me in as I tried to figure out how the threads in each chapter wove together. When the devastating revelation is reached it felt like suddenly being at the top of a high roller coaster, and we’re sent into very painful freefall as all the chapters suddenly knit together.
The mystery of a terrible event and who it happens to, and who instigates it, is what kept me gripped from start to finish. A sense of unease vibrates beneath apparently innocent teenage ‘growing up’ and our reactions to it are left for us to figure out along the way. There’s also the bigger question of reality at stake. Is reality only what we make of it? Does God create others who dream like he does? These mysteries make this a bigger story, a more universe- encompassing, morally questioning and curiously spiritual story, than it first appears. Given the era and it actually felt like a more upsetting version of Richard Ayoade’s film, ‘Submarine’, in fact. That’s purely in the era, not the story.
Jeremy Dyson is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers and I’m very glad to have another book of short stories by him on the shelf all ready to go.
In an earlier review of the ‘Kite Runner’ I compared the themes in that book with ‘What Happens Now’ and it’s very interesting how the two authors dealt with something as traumatic as rape and betrayal. I mean, hopefully this event is still very shocking to most readers, and I felt that the way it’s dealt with in ‘WHN’ keeps it clear of melodramatic cliche. It helps that there’s a sympathetic protagonist who makes a roundabout, somewhat surreal attempt at redemption. There’s also more insight into the victim themselves, which provides much needed balance and insight into the effects of this violent act. ‘The Kite Runner’s’ attempts at a similar redemption seemed comparatively hamfisted and rather one note, although of course the act is just as shocking. For this reason I still prefer Jeremy Dyson’s approach, and after reading ‘WHN’ I felt much more moved and quite deeply affected.