Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review of The Last Llanelli Train by Robert Lewis, Serpent’s Tail (2005)

If you enjoy in-depth character studies then The Last Llanelli Train might be for you. The book focuses on the blurred and dazed life of permanently drunk, Robert Llewellyn, a some time private investigator in the provincial city of Bristol. Down on his luck and just about at the end of the road he’s hired by a woman who wants to entrap her husband. It should be easy money – all he needs to do is find an attractive and reasonably intelligent prostitute and moral weakness will do the rest. Only Llewellyn and his demons never want to do anything the easy way – drinking, gambling, arguments, fights; he stumbles from one ill-informed decision to another, conscious of his own shortcomings but drawn to trouble and other social misfits, what little money coming his way passing through his fingers like water.

The White Hart was over the other side of Victoria Park, in Bedminster. It was a rough, joyless hovel, the landlord was an idiot, and I didn't like any of the locals. All the places I went to tended to be like that. My needs are not great, and let's not deceive ourselves as to what are needs and what are not. Let's have the nerve to face them for what they are, right? It works out cheaper that way. Usually.

This is not normally the kind of book I tend to read. Usually I go for something that has quite a bit of action and much more dialogue, where the characters are well defined and drawn out, but the focus of the narrative is the story itself not the principal character and his inner thoughts. As a consequence I struggled with the first half of the book wanting desperately for things to happen beyond Llewellyn getting paralytically drunk, wandering from one pub to the next, sitting in caffs or the bookies and reflecting on his own foibles. In the second half of the book the story with respect to the entrapment starts to come into its own and other characters start to edge to the fore and I started to enjoy the read. Lewis captures the desperation of an alcoholic’s tenuous grip on the world and his fractured and cathartic life. If you want to enter the lifeworld of a small town PI who seems to hate life as much as he tries cling onto it then The Last Llanelli Train might be your cup of tea.

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