RARA-AVIS: Williams: King of the Road (2006)

From: Karin Montin ( kmontin@sympatico.ca)
Date: 20 Aug 2006

André „ussolier said here that it's the "best book of the Mangel trilogy. Very dark but very melancholic in an odd way." The Guardian gave it an excellent review:
< http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1721936,00.html>

I've just read this last instalment in fellow Rara Avian Charlie Williams's Mangel trilogy, which takes place in Mangel, England, where everyone (or almost) speaks in a very distinctive slangy local dialect.

Narrator Royston Blake is just out of the psychiatric hospital, having spent three or four years recovering from an accidental OD on mind-altering drugs. He's been dragooned into taking a job as front of house customer flow manager for a strange new creation--a shopping mall. It's a step down from head doorman at Hopper's, but since Hopper's as we knew it no longer exists, Blakey doesn't have much choice, especially as he wants to settle down and raise the son he's never seen. The father-son theme is very important in this book, as Blakey strives to fufil his role as a good father and struggles with painful memories of his own father.

Amazingly, the Mangel "old guard" have elected Blakey their saviour. It is he who will rid Mangel of the outsiders who have come in and started introducing unwanted change to the town. The shopping mall isn't the only thing; fast food restaurants serving fries--not chips--are also moving in and taking over. Another bunch also want Blakey to help them with their plans for the mall. He's being pulled in three directions and something's got to give.

Blakey starts out strangely pacifistic. Where once he would have beaten anyone who looked sideways at him, he now initially lets it go. Brain damage or maturity? Only time will tell. Although if you've read Deadfolk or Fags and Lager, you'll probably suspect that once he's back in Mangel, it won't be long before Royston is his old self again.

This is a fast-moving story whose narrator speaks in a very convincing, one-of-a-kind voice. A lot of people are killed, some very casually, but the skilful use of humour keeps the violence on surreal plane.

The one part I didn't really like was a kind of supernatural, dreamlike scene near the end. I'm not big on supernatural stuff and I found it jarred with the rest, which although surreal, is more down to earth.

Thematic links to my other posts today: the title ties it to Wim Wenders, who made a film called Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit), and the saviour motif ties it to Pop. 1280.


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