Sunday 3 February 2008


The Waters of Thirst
by Adam Mars-Jones

After such fulsome praise from John Self on his Asylum site how could I resist? Especially when the protagonist is an actor called William and I'm an. . .well you get the idea.

William is looking at his relationship with his partner Terry, one framed of course by the AIDS crisis, but dominated not by that so much as the small domestic affairs which define any long-term relationship. To sustain what is essentially a monologue for 180 pages is no mean feat and Mars-Jones does so by peppering the text with wit, humour and warmth. He is very good at the middle class observation:

"There's a moment in a dinner party, isn't there, when you realize that all is not well between your hosts. It's nothing crude, it's not that they're using packet gravy or anything. I've tasted gravy made almost to competition standards in homes where, the same weekend, someone's hand got shut in the knife drawer really quite nastily."
The quip:
"There are quite a few heterosexuals in the airline business, mainly in administration. I'm always surprised by how many straights there are, and in all walks of life, not just in the obvious professions."
But biggest laugh it raised from me was with a subject a little closer to home:
"...most of what passes for acting is no more than text-based wheedling... 'Please believe in me,' you're saying. 'See, I've even put on a little bit of an accent for you. What more could you want, really? Come on, start believing. You know you won't enjoy yourself until you do. Why waste the price of your ticket? Shocking what they ask these days, isn't it? And all down the drain unless you believe in me - please? - with my costume and my moves and my lines and my little bit of an accent.'"

There are two major topics which are used to great effect. William is an avid collector of the pornography, of one American star in particular, a collection he keeps away from Terry who, shall we say, doesn't measure up. But through his close 'reading' of Peter Hunter's work and a hilarious cross referencing of index cards he has created William thinks that he may have spotted that his hero is ill. William is also in need of a kidney transplant and this accounts for his interest in motor cyclists given that they 'really are organ donors-in-waiting. A dab of grease or a handful of gravel, and a motorbike just wants a good lie down'. The progression through the novel of humour into pathos is brilliantly judged and there is a clever unifying of these two topics at the end of the novel.

Whilst I might stop short of the word masterpiece The Waters of Thirst is quite an achievement.


John Self 4 February 2008 at 08:41  

So glad you liked this W. I didn't stop short of the word 'masterpiece' but did append a 'small' to the front, just to be sure.

Will be interested in critical reaction to his new novel Pilcrow which is out in April. I wouldn't use the word 'disappointment' ... no, bugger it, yes I would!

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