Thursday, 13 December 2007
‘Martin Martin’s on the Other Side’ – Mark Wernham (Random House)
I’ve been manfully struggling to get through ‘A Sword from Red Ice’ these past couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a good read overall (about halfway through now) but every so often a chapter pops up where I read a couple of pages and suddenly start compiling a list of all the housework that needs doing… To counteract this I’ve been taking a break, from ‘A Sword from Red Ice’, to read other stuff as well and one of these other books was ‘Martin Martin’s on the Other Side’. A sure-fire contender for ‘most cumbersome book title’ it’s also a pretty cumbersome read that poses more questions than it answers but, surprisingly, it’s pretty good fun as well.
Jensen Interceptor, ‘ace government spy’, is tasked with infiltrating the cult of the ‘Martin Martinists’, a group dedicated to exulting the life of a dead twentieth century TV psychic. Through his investigation Jensen will discover that Martin Martins may be dead but he’s still very active... It’s not often that I’m able to paraphrase a novel quite so succinctly. In this case it’s partly because the plot is so convoluted that it’s impossible to say too much without giving the game away. Given how intricate the plot was I was impressed at the way Wernham had tied almost everything together by the end (I say ‘almost’ as there were things were never fully explained). The character of Jensen isn’t particularly bright and is manipulated by all and sundry; by the end he isn’t entirely sure what just happened and (as a result) neither are we. This makes the story infuriating to follow but at the same time intrigued me enough to want to re-read this at some point in the future.
The main reason that the plot can be so easily outlined is that, for most of the book, it takes second place to Wernham’s musings on government and what it must do to stay in control of it’s people. There’s some pretty shrewd comments made in this vein, perhaps nothing that we didn't already know but worthwhile nonetheless. Given how stupid Jensen can be, much has to be explained to him and some people may find that they’re being spoon fed information when they don’t need to be. Other people (and I was one of them) will be grateful that things are made clear. Wernham also has a lot of fun with the language that Jensen uses, a method of speech that anyone from London will recognise although there are a few extras thrown in. Initially it’s hard to follow but it does get easier as the story progresses. It’s a useful way to get inside Jensen’s head but sometimes proves to be a bit of a distraction from the story itself.
The blurb compares ‘Martin Martin’s’ style to that of classics like ‘1984’. I don’t think it’s quite at that stage but the final chapter does have Orwellian overtones…
‘Martin Martin’s on the Other Side’ was a difficult book to stick with but I ended up getting quite a lot out of it. I think this is a promising debut from Wernham and I’d be interested to see what he comes up with next.
Seven out of Ten