Spook Country by William Gibson
“Okay, let’s start by acknowledging the truth: you are going to read this book, because it’s William Gibson, and you and I both read everything he writes.”
-Taken from an Amazon review by Adam Z
Guilty as charged. So, so guilty.
It’s William Gibson: Exquisitely crafted language, crisp images, and vivid characters.
It is also not a five-canary book, a conclusion the result of a day long pitched battle in my little fangirl heart. Gibson’s lovely style is here, but the story…isn’t. The narrative audiobook voice of Robertson Dean carried me along, and Gibson’s writing made it a pleasant journey, but the overall plot was stretched taut enough to be transparent.
I am not going to post a teaser summary of the story’s premise. Let’s face it. If you’re a Gibson fan, you’ll be reading this book anyway, and enjoying every description-laden moment. If you’re not, I’m gonna say, Neuromancer, and follow it up with Pattern Recognition.
So, we’re in Spook Country.
With such an image-loaded piece, I kept waiting for a theme or a motif pattern to pull through. Every time the story’s attention drifted away from the main plotline and described something that did not directly move the story forward — the junkie’s messiah book, or Hollis’ look into the room beyond the plastic wall, as her companion loaded his sniper rifle — I waited for those literary elements to coalesce and hit me over the head. Dammit, I know they’ve gotta be in there!
But no. Either Gibson is too subtle to be trussed up for analysis on a first read, or the story is exactly what it appears to be — a solid bit of mental imagery massage and some suspenseful spy games. (Read: suspense, not thriller.)
Though the story is told in a delicious third person limited point of view, I felt there was a pane of cool glass between me and some of the major characters. The businessman Bigend, for example, remains an unexplained caricature of an eccentric, enigmatic something-a-llionaire who, inexplicably, has the money and time to spend following phantom leads into dark corners.
Even if intentional, this sometimes-contradictory nature of the story is akin to the unwelcome rapping on the car widow. And just as I am finally slipping deeper into the text. Though to be fair, the characterization overall was damn delicious. To be even more fair, Spook Country is the second book and one I read (accidentally) as a stand-alone. I’ll need to revisit this review after I read the first book of the Bigend series.
The sharp rise in action climax about midway through the novel as two narrative strands are pulled together for an explosive encounter; after that, the characters are on the move, traveling, searching, actively setting their various plans into motion. But past that one turning point, the action rolls down a slope, rather than building for an ending.
The storylines do converge, but the tense set of my shoulders is gone. The mystery of what was happening remains, but the tension eases from the story like a tire, sinking into the ground. I found myself listening to the last dozen or so chapters not because I urgently needed to know, but because I was mildly curious about how it’d turn out.
Admittedly, there were 84 chapters in total, so I guess the book is allowed to have ten or so on the downward resolution curve,
And of course there is William Gibson’s prose.
Oh, Gibson’s prose. If his writing style were a man, he’d be a manly man, clean shaven, white cuffs peeking out beneath the sleeves of a black suit, a cotton scarf at his neck, and a sci-fi headset over his eyes and around one ear.
“Hey babe,” he’d say in a Pierce Brosnan voice, “Just keep on readin’.”