book review

by james hörner

submission info
book cover
isbn: 1-55263-021-8
pub: keyporter books
Two Murders in My Double Life - Josef Skvorecky

this is a strange book. one which tells two stories. one story is about a college professor who lectures on the detective novel genre, and who gets himself wrapped up in a local murder. the other story involves the author's alcoholic wife and her current/past mess with the communist regime. these stories weave around each other through the course of a brisk 183 pages, playing a literary leap-frog.

sometimes, though, these two narratives are at odds with one another. campy, detective novel humour and the depression of communist politics and alcoholism playing off one another in ways that didn't feel right. it felt more like there were two books here, and neither of them really wanted to be with one another. both narratives were intriguing, just not together. if Skvorecky had pulled these two seemingly disparate novellas apart and fleshed each out on their own, then we would have something truly interesting.

Skvorecky is trying to contemporize himself a bit here, adding postmodern bits and funny jabs at political correctness. however the pop-culture references were a bit dated and simple self-referentiality has become cliché, unless of course he was trying to poke fun at postmodernism, which didn't seem to be the case here. in other words, too many references by the narrator of feeling like he's in a novel.

i confess, though, that i am not familiar with Skvorecky's early works and so i cannot view it in terms of his development as a writer. it is a quick read well worth it for two narratives on their own. his satire of the university scene is light-heartedly humourous, and his writings on communist politics are scathing and intensely fascinating. the one thing that really made the novel feel awkward was the degrading alcoholism of the narrator's wife, and how the narrator watches her degrade as though she were little more than a memory.

Two Murders in My Double Life interested me enough to pick up a copy of Skvorecky's earlier work, The Cowards, to get more into his writing. one can see why is considered by to be "magnificent writer" by the way he constructs a sentence, expresses a thought. the dusk jacket says that this is his first work of fiction written in english, so i wonder if he was so conscious about the words that he didn't notice the overall narrative structure was flawed. nonetheless, this work evokes emotions which are worth getting into, creating a book that should be read.

james hörner co-edits canadian content and has never murdered anyone (honest).
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