A few months ago, a friend of mine, Fran Slater blogged about a book called The Gamal, by Ciaran Collins. He loved the book, like properly loved it, which surprised me mostly because he hates just about everything. He was shocked himself that the book hadn’t quite reached much of an audience and was determined to correct that. He set up The Gamal Pop-up Library.
The idea is this – there are some copies going around London and Manchester, you read it, you review it, blog about it and spread the word. Simple as that.
I like narrators who by all means would never write a book. Charlie, our narrator for The Gamal is such a narrator. He spends the first fifty pages berating his Doctor who has told him to write his story down. It takes a hundred pages just to get to the first chapter, which he only does because he everyone else seems to be.
The story is split into tiny fragments combining memories, thoughts, dictionary definitions, photos, sketches, barrages of swear words, song lyrics (or a lack of song lyrics where, after legal intervention, lyrics had to be removed) and all kinds of other things.
The book has had comparisons with Catcher in the Rye, and whilst Charlie does have a hint of Holden Caulfield about him, he’s a different beast. More in tune with teenagers than I think Salinger’s protagonist ever was, Charlie is a ball of problems, his mind racing from one thing to the next, never quite being able to get his story in order.
It’s a unique and fascinating way to present a book, and whilst at first it took me a while to get into it, once I did, it absolutely captivated me.
A picture of the cover
This is the cover of the book.
The Gamal is a mystery of sorts, just not the sort of mystery you might think. An enormous part of the book is taken up with the question: What is the story? Which for many books would signal its death knell, but here, it works like a charm. In fact, even in the narrator we have something of a mystery – exactly what Charlie’s role in the story really is, is always questionable and like all great unreliable narrators, it is clear that there are things he refuses to say, and events which he is biased towards and against. The ending of the novel in particular will haunt you for ages, and there is a particularly chilling (but rather spoilery) comment on the nature of perpetrators, witnesses and victims of crimes, which will definitely stick with you.
Someone else’s opinion
I shouldn’t be the only one you believe about how great this book is. Here is Jenn Ashworth’s review. It’s a good ‘un.
The Gamal is available from Bloomsbury, and should be in all major bookstores. The author, Ciaran Collins, is on Twitter @ciarancollins77