Monday 2 December 2013

Book Review: Vincent Viñas – 'The Funeral Portrait'

'The Funeral Portrait' 

Despite humanity's collective unconsciousness being hard-wired around sex and death, suicide is not easy topic for a lot of people to deal with, especially when it's a subject a little too close to home for comfort. Which is why Vincent Viñas' novel 'The Funeral Portrait' is so unexpectedly pleasurable to read.

The book focuses on Guy – a world weary and somewhat pathetic character intent on ending his life, but lacking the motivation to do it. He frequents the top of an old nearby factory with all the drive to throw himself off the top, but never manages to go through with it. His girlfriend left him, his psychiatrist is more interested in getting paid than curing him, and his roommate brother who literally leaves him with pie on his face. Then one day he meets Tallulah, a quirky, perky goth girl who is just as intent on killing herself as guy, but is unfortunately immortal. Everything she tries, no matter how violent or destructive it is on herself, she always gets up again. The two are drawn together and quickly fall into a relationship of sorts, but then have to make a decision between death and one last roll of the dice on happiness.

The book is told in the first person through a series of suicide notes left by Guy which act as a diary chronicling the strange goings on with his own struggles with day-to-day life as well as the added weirdness of his relationship with Tallulah, and her immortal friends. It's a nice method that allows the reader to really get into the plot through the eyes of the main protagonist as he tries to deal with it. It's not an uncommon tool, with 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker being one example that instantly springs to mind. However the writing style of Viñas is a lot less heavy than stoker and as a result Guy is much more identifiable than Stoker's Jonathan Harker. The first person narrative is descriptive where it needs to be and the use of dialogue is natural and snappy.

What really drives the book and keeps the page turning is the dark and cynical humour which is liberally sprinkled throughout. The first few pages over flow with the kind of angst benefiting a suicidal Holden Caulfield, but it disperses into an awkward if morbid humour as the suicide notes become a diary rather than a final goodbye.

'The Funeral Portrait' also has that “matter of fact” approach to the uncanny that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett do so well in books like 'Neverwhere' and 'Good Omens'. The fact that there is a group of suicidal friends who are immortal is never explained and it doesn't need to be. The situation is the main focus and the reader quickly accepts this rather than continually questioning their origins.

The balance of dark, sarcastic humour with a genuinely interesting romantic plot makes 'The Funeral Portrait' a very a funny, tender and overall enjoyable read. It's subject on the surface may be too morbid for some, but after 30 pages it begins to go down new and strange paths that compels you to keep reading.

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