Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

"Living with the Truth" by Jim Murdoch (fandango virtual, 2008)

A bitterly comic novel. The main character, Jonathan, is a 53 year-old bachelor who owns a bookshop. He's not interested in others except physically, sometimes. He says "Bit by bit I've somehow rid myself of people and the problems that come with them. I'm safe. Sometimes a little lonely but it's a price I've been willing to pay for a bit of peace and quiet". Early on however, we read that "he moved inevitably toward the edge of himself - and quietly slipped over", p.5

His life's capsized by the visit of the embodiment of Truth, a young man. His capricious omniscience takes over from the novel's earlier solipsistic viewpoint. Truth reveals the secrets and past of other characters to Jonathan. Truth makes Jonathan curious, tempts him to ask questions, and also to reveal himself. Truth is entertaining too, coming out with monologues like "It's like Everest, the laziest mountain in the world (you read that joke in your Fantastic Four Annual), Tenzing got there first but everyone thinks it was Hillary. Actually the Goons got there a month and a day earlier. Who gives a bunch of dried figs about the truth nowadays? No one realises that Tenzing was his first name either. It's like Jesus never being born on Christmas Day but back in the early hours of October the Second. And 2 BC at that", p.40.

Towards the end Truth monopolises with moralistic/philosophical monologues. Given the situation I guess that's fair enough. I liked the comparison of love to water that starts on p.159, but some of the rest goes on too long. On p.165 Truth says "I'm telling you you've never known real love". Later, just in time, he tells Jonathan how close he got.


There's hardly a quiet moment. One keeps wanting to read on

  • "She had been saving herself for the right man and the interest was accruing nicely", p.43
  • "Why? What's wrong with the word? It's a perfectly valid euphemism." "But do you have to euphemise so loudly?", p.89
  • "The doorbell did its stuff. Truth's eyes lit up and his mouth shifted into first gear, though the handbrake was still firmly on", p.99
  • There's a fun scene about Jonathan's sister playing Winnie in an am-dram Christmas version of Beckett's "Happy Days", a couple of songs added for good measure.

If anything the comedy and the striving to enliven each sentence (as in the "doorbell" example above) is too relentless, but I guess that's the point. The prison episode seemed a wee bit of a detour though.

Spot the poem

Some of the ideas from poems in This is not about what you think have another outing here -

  • We learn that sexual "coming" in the Orient is "going", p.4
  • "Jonathan didn't believe in destiny but he did in inevitability", p.6
  • On p.14 there's mention of Laing and Truth.
  • "Memories? Well he could do without them", p.21
  • "He could usually be found in the library making notes for tomorrow's tests. Or more often scouring the art books for naked women. Somehow their art never quite reached him", p.24

I do the same thing. Why waste a good line?


Sometimes a sentence surprizes - going outside the story or "going meta"

  • "Overseeing all the foregoing to-ing and fro-ing was a solitary magpie on the back wall who, not feeling all that symbolic that morning, contented himself by repeating an unimaginative mantra over and over again", p.26
  • "He had all the personality of one of those minor characters writers insist on introducing to pad out their novels", p.109

Two typos (I think) -

  • "if you headed due east, within a couple of hundred years, you were in the country", p.128. "yards" rather than "years"?
  • "Now, strand straight", p.134. "stand"?

Other reviews

1 comment:

  1. I wrote my first draft of Living with the Truth about twenty years ago so it’s hard to remember what was going through my head at the time. I can tell you that my life was in the process of going down the toilet pan; I was in the midst of a deep depression; I was separated from my wife and would quit my job for no good reason a matter of weeks after finishing this book and yet out of all this misery the relentless—and that it a good word for him—Truth appears; you hit the nail on the head there. Laughing at yourself is supposed to be a good thing and yet laughing at other people is frowned on; you’re supposed to laugh with them. Truth does mock, there’s no doubt about that and yet I’d like to think he’s not cruel about it, just very, very honest (well, he is the personification of truth). As has been pointed out by at least one other reviewer Truth and Jonathan are two sides of the one person, that person being me or, to be more accurate, a projection of me. Interestingly I’m now fifty-three and my life couldn’t be more different to Jonathan’s but I did get a couple of things right: I’m definitely an old fifty-three and I’m still pretty much a miserable git.

    Pleased you noticed the poems. I agree totally, why waste a good line? I’ve no qualms about quoting other people so why not quote me. It puzzles the hell out of me that other poets don’t do the same. All the birds in the book are symbolic by the way. Can’t for the life of me remember what they all symbolised now but they were all included for a reason. Probably couldn’t’ve told you what metafiction was at the time though but it was deliberate; the Scot who’d just finished his novel but had no one to talk to about it is me. As for the typos, all I can say is that a lot more work’s gone into later books. All of these have been fixed in the ebook and, if I ever do another print run of Living with the Truth (which is unlikely—there’s simply not the demand these days) they’ll be fixed there too.