Reviews In The Machine : Scouse Gothic by Ian McKinney
Scouse Gothic is one of the more unique books I have read this year, just in terms of the makeup and layout of the narrative. I think it’s a book where your mindset and expectations are going to largely dictate how you enjoy the experience.
Mainly, I think it’s best to approach this like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. There were a number of points throughout the book where I felt that, while I was enjoying the read, I didn’t necessarily feel a strong overall narrative drive to everything.
I scanned through some of the reviews for this because I was curious how other people were reacting to this. I suspect that this is the kind of book that will either be a solid hit or a complete miss. One reader compared this book to Pulp Fiction and I found that to be pretty close to the mark.
In Scouse Gothic, what we have is a series of vignettes that take place within a shared narrative universe. And like the threads that make up a piece of fabric, these vignettes have a tendency to bump up against each other and become twisted together. Different characters rise to the forefront to get the spotlight trained on them and before too long, the story is wrapping up and bringing everything back to some extent to where things started.
It should also be noted that this the first of what appears to be a trilogy of books. I have no idea if the followup books will take on a more traditional structure, with this newly formed cast of characters or if it will stick with the same format again. It’s entirely possible that the structure of the first book was mostly intended as an introduction to the key players.
For me, what makes this book shine is the characters. Books are made up of human (or otherwise) characters and their ability to reach the reader on an emotional level are going to be essential to making things work.
As I suggested already, most of the time when I feel like I don’t understand where the story is going, I tend to tune out. With this, I found the individual stories so compelling and entertaining that I wasn’t caring so much about the global perspective.
Just out of my own misgivings anymore, I tend to shut out stories involving vampires, just because the cultural landscape has become so littered and oversaturated. But even considering this, it’s still completely possible to write a good vampire story. What I think makes this work is that the character’s vampirism isn’t necessarily what the story hangs on. In fact, it almost seems incidental to the actual track of these vampires as characters. These aren’t bland, cookie-cutter people. They live and breathe and provide great texture to a world that is masterfully crafted.
Another way I feel like this book is a success is from the fact that, as each vignette drew to a close, I felt a little disappointed that we would have to move on and that most of the individual characters could likely support an entire separate book on their own. The book grabs your interest, holds on to it and when it gives it back, you find yourself saying, “Wait, you can hold on to it longer, if you want!”
Scouse Gothic is an interesting book that I hope you will consider checking out. Whatever you may feel is lacking from the overall narrative is more than made up for by the individual parts. Read this for the characters and for the quality of the writing, like a really nice wine that you have to let wash through you and take time to properly consider.