MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Most people don't care for nightmares, they wake up relieved that it was all a dream. But author Ismet Prcic has found a nightmare he loves. It's his favorite book, in fact. It's called "Marabou Stork Nightmares" by Irvine Welsh. In it, the central character is trapped in his dream, and the reader descends with him into the darkness of his comatose brain.
ISMET PRCIC: Have you ever read a novel that is so propulsive you do not want to put it down, not even to play with your new kitten, and so well-plotted that it doesn't reveal itself to you until its 288th page, which just happens to be the book's final one as well? "Marabou Stork Nightmares" by Irvine Welsh is that kind of a novel.
On the first glance, if you simply picked it up and shuffled its pages, it might not look appealing to some readers. You might say to me: I don't have time to negotiate its typographically designed pages that sometimes resemble concrete poetry. I don't have time to mouth all the words written phonetically in a Scottish dialect to understand them. I can't stomach all the four-letter words and the violence. I have kids to feed, Izzy. Nonetheless, you should pick this book up and forthwith. It's that worth it.
Irvine Welsh may be most familiar to American film audiences for playing Mikey Forrester in the cult movie "Trainspotting," based on a tremendous novel he also penned. Welsh is a wizard of language, funny and brutal, provocative and sweet. His phrases twirl like dervishes, he surprises you, makes you laugh and cringe, gets you to the edge of what you can handle and keeps you there, teetering, making you scared but giddy. It's a rare kind of talent.
The book concerns one Roy Strang, a soccer hooligan, amongst other things. He grew up in Margaret Thatcher's Britain in the projects of Edinburgh. Roy is in a coma after a failed suicide attempt, but the reader is somehow privy to his thoughts. In a visually daring way, Welsh displays three levels of Roy's unconsciousness. On the highest level, Roy is aware of the people coming in and out of his hospital room. He hears his family members arguing around his bed and the nurses talking to him, changing him, giving him sponge baths.
Often, what he hears causes Roy to run away deeper into his mind, into a phantasmagorical virtual Africa. There, Roy and his imaginary friend, a footballer, are on a fantasy quest to eradicate a terrible scavenger-predator: Marabou Stork, the killer of pretty pink flamingos. When Roy's mind is unable to run away into fantasy land, it is forced to go back into his past and remember what he so desperately does not want to remember. Most of the book is told from this middle perspective.
The reader witnesses the journey of a mind pulverized by violence, a mind desperately trying to rationalize its narrative, even rewrite it - a tendency that reminds the reader that even unsavory, terrible humans are just that, human. Welsh is often unabashed and blunt in the way he depicts violence, so if you're particularly squeamish, some portions of the book can be daunting. But as the narrative progresses, the reader realizes that this novel is an amazing study of human violence, showing us how victims become perpetrators, how perpetrators become victims and how the bystanders are also responsible because they do not do anything to stop it. It all ends in a crescendo that makes the reader understand why they had to be pushed to the brink.
BLOCK: Ismet Prcic is the author of "Shards." He was talking about the book "Marabou Stork Nightmares" by Irvine Welsh. He wrote this essay for our series You Must Read This, where authors talk about a book they love. And you can find more authors' picks at npr.org.
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