The first thing that gave me difficulty in reading Graham Jones’ novel, The History Student,
was the use of the letter "d". Mr Jones uses this instead of the "th" sound, to convey the fact that this is how the narrator
talks. Fair enough, only that the narrator isn’t talking, he’s writing, and presumably when writing he does not
spell all these words with a "d" – because he wants people to understand his meaning. Thus a sentence like "Dat was
de kind of ding mum did" evokes nothing so much as a late sixties’ novelty pop song. Let’s just hope, I thought,
that this book is going to be funny.
Unfortunately, it’s not. There is humour here, but nowhere near enough.
Reading a novel in electronic format is not an easy thing to do at the best of times, but this technique
doesn’t help. Our brains and eyes have got used to having their reading matter presented in page-sized chunks. Most
of the works I have read on screen have been in PDF format, which looks pretty much like an ordinary book. The History
Student is presented as one apparently never-ending page, only broken up by chapter numbers, and this is as off-putting
as trying to drink two pints out of the same glass when you are only used to drinking a half-pint. I have to admit, I was
tempted to give up very early on.
The style, apart from the liberal sprinkling of "d"s, is both complex and elegant. The story is set in Ireland,
which for some reason always seems to mean that the characters have to have odd names such as Bosco. But perhaps this is just
racist of me. Perhaps Bosco is no more uncommon in Ireland than Dai is in Wales – I haven’t spent enough time
there to be sure, so I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt on that one and concentrate on the plot. According
to the blurb, it’s " the story of an eejit called Neary Aalben who manages to stop the world killing for a day". Sounds
like quite an achievement, doesn’t it? Needless to say, that’s not really what the book is about.
The novel was originally written as a screenplay, but I must say I can’t see this as a successful film.
There’s not enough action. For example, much of the early part of the story is about Neary’s relationship with
his parents, and only a very clever writer can make that work on screen. Of course, if it wasn’t a very good
screenplay, then turning it into a novel was a sensible thing to do. I’ve certainly, in the past, changed some of my
work from one genre to another, and I would advise other aspiring writers to experiment in the same way.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable read if you can apply yourself. I’m very much afraid most people won’t
be able to. The world has got a long way to go before we’re ready to leave the printed page behind.