Linger Awhile by Russell Hoban
The ex-pat US author Russell Hoban, who lived in London, died at the end of 2011 aged 86. He kept writing right up to the end. I haven’t paid a visit to Hobanville in a while, and this short novel published in 2006 neatly filled in the gap between more major reads. Hoban’s world is weird, wacky and earthy – anything goes, and anything can happen, as it does in abundance in Linger Awhile…
I’ve included a larger than usual picture of the book’s cover, as the montage of images seems to cover a lot of what happens – from Soho and Chinatown, to a black and white movie cowgirl who looks a bit like Barbara Stanwyck, a toad of the wart-licking variety, a videotape (remember those!), an old seafort, and of course the vampire and her victim in glorious Technicolor. All that’s missing are the three old guys and a parrot called Elijah. Let’s meet one of them…
Irving Goodman was married to Charlotte for ten happy years.
We were faithful to each other and I had no mid-life crisis. Then she died. Nobody talks about end-of-life crises but they do happen and twenty-seven years after Charlotte’s death I fell into one at the age of eighty-three. I needed some technical help with it so I bought a bottle of expensive whisky and went to see Istvan Fallok at Hermes Soundways in Soho.
Irving’s crisis is complex. He’s 83 and he’s fallen in love with Justine Trimble who’s been dead for twenty-five years. She was a black and white movie star in the 1950s, and played the kind of cowgirl “you could tie her to a post and leave her out in the rain for two or three days and she’d come out of it freshly laundered, make-up unsmudged, and with dry knickers.” Irving is convinced that she can be brought to life from the visual DNA of her image in an old video tape of Last Stage to El Paso, and Istvan will be able to work out how to do it.
They drink their Bowmore Cask Strength Scotch (Hoban is big on this kind of detail), and Irv leaves Istvan to it. Needless to say, he manages to regenerate Justine – but she’s black and white, and not at all happy to be brought back to life like this. Istvan ‘sees’ to her, and also donates some red stuff which gives her some colour, but he’s an old man himself, and it’s not enough for the newly energised Justine. She goes off in search of blood and finds and accidentally kills a woman she encounters just dumping the body around the corner. Chauncey Lim, who’s also a Trimble fan, witnessed it, and soon he’s admitted to the club of her randy old admirers. Although they move the body, the police are soon on the trail, and it all gets very complicated, especially once Istvan’s girlfriend Grace hears about Justine.
This book is very camp, and totally non-PC, reminding me more of the Carry On films with their farce rather than Hammer Horror with its scream factor – call it ‘carry on vamping’? There are chuckles aplenty with some good one-liners, and plenty of just desserts distributed to even up the high-jinks.
The whole though, feels a bit like a novella stretched just a little thin. It was a fun, quick read, but I have read better: 2007’s My Tango with Barbara Strozzi for instance, plus his post-apocalyptic cult classic Riddley Walker which is totally different to the rest of his writing (and wonderful). This one may be slightly more miss than hit, but Hoban is a writer I will keep on reading, and I’ve got plenty left to catch up with. (6.5/10)