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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"End of the World Blues" by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Order “End of the World BluesHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

In 2007 M. John Harrison won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for his novel “Nova Swing”, which I just reviewed HERE. Funnily enough, the book I just finished reading, “End of the World Blues” by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, was one of the titles shortlisted for that award. “End of the World Blues” also won the 2006 BSFA Award for Best Novel, was originally released by Gollancz in August 2006, and was my introduction to Jon Courtenay Grimwood, a science fiction writer critically-acclaimed for such works as “Stamping Butterflies” and the Arabesk trilogy.

Alternating between the third-person point-of-views of Kit Nouveau and Lady Neku, “End of the World Blues” chronicles a fascinating tale that is largely a contemporary crime noir thriller, but also part fantastical sci-fi, and part soul-searching. While it takes a little while for things to become clear, we eventually learn that the book is set in the year 2018, that Kit Nouveau is a British military deserter living out his days in Tokyo running a bar with his wife Yoshi, and that Lady Neku is an exile from an apocalyptic far future. Needless to say, the two storylines are quite distinct. Nouveau’s narrative for instance is grounded more in reality and finds Kit returning to England where he must confront his past while dealing with such subplots as murder, affairs, suicide, Yakuza, drug dealers, law enforcement, former girlfriends, and various other difficulties. Lady Neku’s story meanwhile is much stranger and mainly follows the Countess of High Strange as she’s trying to remember the bizarre events that led to her banishment. While the two characters’ lives may seem as far apart as possible, they are actually closely tied together—for Kit, it’s a chance at redemption; for Lady Neku, it’s an opportunity to start anew…

There are so many wonderful things to say about “End of the World Blues” that I’m not sure where to begin. The writing was impressive, both edgy & stylish; the characters multi-dimensional and intriguing; the plotting was tight & entertaining; the SF elements—a sentient castle (Schloss Omga), body snatching, a talking cat, et cetera—were fun; and I loved the whole ambiguity behind Lady Neku who may or may not have been the imagination of a 15-year-old runaway girl. For me though, what really impressed me was the vividness in which Mr. Grimwood brought Tokyo to life. Don’t get me wrong, England and Nawa-no-ukiyo—the novel’s other two settings—were also brilliantly defined, but there was just something about Tokyo and its Japanese culture that took my breath away. As far as shortcomings, there weren’t many but I did have a few issues with the book. One was how the year 2018, aside from a few subtle differences, was basically the same as 2007. Then there was Kit Nouveau. While Mr. Grimwood utilizes the flashback device to great use throughout the book, I wish that we would have learned more about Kit who had a lot of interesting backstory left to tell. Also, there were some inconsistencies regarding Lady Neku who I thought was a bit underutilized towards the end of the book. In fact, the ending as a whole seemed a bit too neat considering everything that came before. Truthfully though, these are just minor problems I had with “End of the World Blues” and are easy to forgive, especially when you look at the book as a whole which is about as good as it gets.

In the award-winning “Nova Swing” it was easy to recognize and respect the talent & creativity of author M. John Harrison, but I can also see how readers might be polarized by the book. With Jon Courtenay Grimwood’sEnd of the World Blues”, not only do you get a novel that is sophisticated, thought-provoking and award-worthy, but you also get a book that is accessible, engaging and highly recommended. In the end, “End of the World Blues” may have been my first Jon Courtenay Grimwood novel but I can guarantee you that it won’t be my last…

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