7 January 2005

Very Thick Books

People say that Australian cooking used to be bland and unvaried before multiculturalism took off in the '70s and '80s, but one look at the original Australian Women's Weekly Cookbook published in 1970 and you can see that this just isn't true. It's full of recipes inspired by ethnic minorities: Italians... Chinese... Zombies.

6 January 2005

LEGO 5230: Anthony Giddens in his Study. Ages 16-35. This is a good chance to test out what happens when I write a few extra bits and pieces in a blog post.

5 January 2005

All About Chemistry

When I mentioned Mil Millington's brilliant first novel here, I noted the uncanny overlap of its themes with some of my own preoccupations. So when his second appeared recently and turned out to be set in the very city I live in, I had to buy it, even in overpriced, oversized "tradeback" format. Buy, and read within six days.

The Edinburgh angle turned out to be the least interesting aspect of A Certain Chemistry. Apart from a few brief scenes set in the obvious tourist locations, and a few characters being Scottish, there wasn't much of the place in the book—not as much as I'd hoped, anyway. The lead character was still English, and still spoke with the Millington voice (which in itself is no bad thing).

More of a disappointment was the lower joke-count of Mil No. 2. The wry tone is still there, and there are some good comic scenes, but compared to the sustained high of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About it's a bit flat.

Those quibbles aside, A Certain Chemistry tells its story painfully well. It's the story of an affair, from beginning to end, and Millington captures every high and low with scientific accuracy. Literally scientific: between chapters, God steps in to explain what's going on under the skin of the characters as various molecules flood them with powerful emotions. Tom and George and Sara, he reminds us, are just experiencing what anyone in their situation would—even as Tom's first-person narrative of the affair dwells on its uniqueness.

Millington keeps the story rolling along like a gathering snowball headed for the small village of Domestic Bliss, Population 2. The last third of the book is the strongest—and, given what it describes, the least funny. Behaviour that would be entertainingly farcical in a less emotional context seems desperate and pathetic here; it's hard to laugh at people whose worlds are falling apart. But where a weaker writer would play out a series of comic vignettes and a fairy-tale ending, Millington seeks and finds a more satisfying truth.

A Certain Chemistry succeeds, then, but for Millington's fans I wonder if it's success enough. Because our man Mil has something that most writers haven't: the ability to write page after page of gaspingly funny stuff. His first book of gaspingly funny stuff managed to say some intelligent and true things about relationships along the way; his second focusses on the truth of relationships—the scientific truth—but at some cost to the gasp.

There's no doubt that he's got what it takes, though, and that number three will be worth reading.