Saturday, 3 September 2011

Read in 2011 - 20: Time For Bed

The subtitle of this book by David Baddiel says "A Novel About Sleep, Sex and Skewed Clocks", and also on the cover, it says "Very, Very Funny..." Roddy Doyle.
Now, we've been talking about book reviews about a week ago here on Frances Garrood's blog, and I guess most of you will agree with me when I say that book reviews are very much a matter of personal taste and mood. What one would enjoy reading in a certain situation may be put down with a shrug, not speaking to the reader, a year earlier or later, due to different experiences and situations in life.
Therefore, when I read something like the "Very, Very Funny..." comment on the cover of a book, I never simply trust it, and such comments usually do not induce me to read or buy a book.
What does make me want to read a book, though, are the reviews of my fellow bloglanders here, or when my mum or my sister have read something and tell me about it. Also, the reviews I find in my weekly newspaper, the ZEIT, are often interesting, and I have read and/or bought books more than once because of something I found there.

"Time For Bed" was given to me by my mum some time ago. Back then, she told me how she'd come into its possession, but I must admit I've forgotten the story; all I know is that she didn't want to read it and so gave it to me. She does read English books, but not almost all the time like I do, and I don't think she would have liked this one anyway.

Why not? Because it is rather vulgar, and I find the main character hard to sympathize with. Gabriel Jacoby is an insomniac in, I think, his thirties, who shares a flat in London with a guy who is just as un-indearing as he is. The place is described as teeming with dirty dishes, dying potted plants and heaps of useless clutter that I know I'd go insane about after just stepping through the front door. He does not work apart from writing the occasional bit for his brother's paper, and generally just drifts along in his life, being as obsessed about his not-sleeping as his mother is about the Hindenburg (you can find out about that here on Wikipedia). His father apparently does nothing but yell abuse at his mother all day, something that I did not find funny at all, but quite upsetting for the sheer idea of it and the over-use of really nasty swear words. 
Don't get me wrong - I am certainly not a prude, and not alien to use a less-than-white word every now and then myself if something or someone makes me very angry, but I do not enjoy vulgarity and obscenity. The sex scenes (there are not quite as many as the subtitle would want us to believe) are alright, if you do not mind rather explicit (but short) descriptions.

The story itself develops as Gabriel tells the reader that he is in love with his brother's wife. Really, deeply in love - he just happened to meet her after his brother had already met her. Had it been the other way round, he is convinced Alice would be his wife now, and not Ben's.
Then Alice's sister returns after several years in the US, and the inevitable happens: Gabriel and Dina become an item.

Quite far into the book, in chapter 22 (of 25), we're in for a surprise (at least I didn't see it coming). The way the book ends nicely rounds up the plot, and is it only my impression or is there a lot less of the swearing and vulgar language going on? Some scenes in the second half of the book were really quite funny, and some bits I even found touching.
Here is how Gabriel describes his feelings for Dina after they have been together for some time:
I feel more and more that I respond towards her without reference to her sister; that, weighing up the matter rationally, taking into account her complexity and her sarcasm and her secrecy and her skin, I am probably more compatible with tight and wound-up Dina than with slack Alice. Of course, the employment of rationality is surely the biggest cliché of romance: we all know that there is no better indication that the lovelorn hero really wants to be with X than telling hismelf that, rationally, he is better of with Y. But in reality, calibration can be made, and, in this case, the calibration is the difference between reality and fantsay; I know now that it's stupid to try and compare my feelings for Dina with my feelings for Alice because they live in different emotions compartments.
Some pages later, there is a whole paragraph dedicated to Dina's eyebrows:
Her eyebrows lift together in the middle, giving her a troubled, slightly pleading look which makes my chest ache. I've learnt, now, that the range of Dina's eyebrow movements extends far beyond ironic arching. They can bend to indicate interest, dive together for convern, flip for amusement, and much more: they are two synchronised swimmers on her forehead. Much of the beauty of her face, in fact, lies in its mobility, a mobility which is happy to run the risk of occasional ugliness, as opposed to Alice, whose face is constantly beautiful, but constant to the point of stasis.
That bit goes to show how well David Baddiel can write - even more of a shame, then, that he has not put it to better use in this book.
Oh, and I can't believe this is only my 20th book this year! Hardly impressive for someone who calls herself Librarian :-)


  1. Hmm. I get eh impression it might be a decent read but not worth sprinting out to get.

  2. Westwood, the story is indeed not bad at all, I just can't see the entertainment in listening to (or reading about) others using obscenities all the time.

  3. oh dear. Practically an ode to eyebrows.
    Reminds me I am in need of a minor pluck here and there!

  4. Julie, your comment made me chuckle and added humour where the author didn't even intend it (I think) :-) Thank you!