Michael Jones, the dangerous man of the title, is driven by overwhelming ambition and desire: the ambition to make it as an artist, and the desire to show the world his true talent and vision by putting on the first ever exhibition of his drawings. (Surely a storyline that will resonate with many of us here on writewords!) Michael is a complex and contradictory man: to begin with, here is an artist who seems to have a horror of colour. Indeed, the suppression of colour from his art is ominously intriguing. Colour, perhaps, is metaphor for truth, because the life Michael comes to live is only viable if he rigorously excludes the truth of his disturbing past. If art aims at self-expression, the artist who seeks to edit and trammel his self is heading for trouble.
What makes this scenario even more interesting is that Anne Brooke has chosen to make Michael her narrator. If there are things that Michael cannot admit to himself, then he’s certainly not going to share them with the reader. Connoisseurs of ‘the unreliable narrator’ take note.
There are layers of revelation and deceit in this novel. Confidences that are shared with some characters (Frank, the landlord at the Soho pub where Michael turns tricks to support his art habit) are withheld from others (notably Jack, Michael’s rich lover and benefactor). And then there are the things that no one is ever told, or at least not directly. But which surface nevertheless. We can’t help noticing the disturbing quirks of Michael’s behaviour, which hint at something dark in the past and something darker yet to come. The tensions that are set in play inevitably lead to violence, at which we may be shocked but not surprised. But there is also an uncontrollable outpouring of self-expression, a kind of rampage of artistic creation. Anne Brooke writes well about art, but of course we can never see Michael’s drawings. So we can never really know whether he has any talent as an artist. This is where her choice of Michael as narrator works particularly well. Is his self-belief justified? Or are those characters who are rather less enthusiastic about his work more to be trusted?
As we all know, the creative artist has to have a degree of self-belief, as well as self-will. Michael has both to excess. But does he have the necessary self-awareness? Possibly. At one point, commenting on his own ability to exploit an emotionally charged incident in his relationship with Jack, he confides to the reader: “Nothing we do is pure…” He then goes on to assert, perhaps protesting too much: “though I loved him, I swear it.” Michael’s best visual art, it seems, comes when he allows the difficult truth about himself to break through the emotional carapace that is, in fact, his greatest creation. But the process, of course, destroys him.
Anne Brooke tells a gripping story (at one point I missed my tube stop!) in a direct, conversational style that pulls you along. She is particularly good, I think, at delineating the power shifts and dynamics of Michael’s developing relationship with Jack. The honesty that a relationship demands is completely beyond Michael. The scene where Michael is introduced to Jack’s family is very well done, with the tension between Michael and Jack’s mother extremely well observed. Michael is dumbstruck by the family’s apparent ease together, even more than by their wealth. It turns out that the potential for happiness is a greater divider than class.
Although the author uses some of the tricks of a thriller writer to keep the reader guessing, I read ‘A Dangerous Man’ ultimately as a tragedy. Michael Jones may be guilty of wishing for too much, but we cannot help being moved by his fate. Given that he is in many ways a selfish and ‘unsympathetic’ character, this is a remarkable achievement.
Gosh. As I said before, many thanks indeed, Roger. You mean it's not just an everyday tale of urban folk then?... And I was trying so hard to be simple!
Seriously though, thanks so much, and Michael and I are still sorry about your tube stop. He was thinking of popping round to offer you a free drawing and a ... (no! no! stop!), but I have managed to persuade him otherwise, you'll be pleased to hear!
Anne, I can't wait to read this (and yours roger). Cracking review.
Thanks, JB - would certainly love to know what you thought. And I'm looking forward to your "Unrequited" in June too! Hey, not long to go now.
It's a fascinating read - I was seriously impressed and more than a little envious.
Great review, Roger
Great review, Roger. I've just ordered it – been meaning to get it for ages, but brain has been on another planet… thanks for the heads-up!
Anne, I’ll let you know what I think – but could be a while as the ‘priority’ reading pile is getting out of control…
Ooh, thanks, Sarah - much appreciated!
And thanks also, Dee - hope you enjoy it. Know what you mean about that book pile though - mine is threatening to take over the living room right now!
This sounds really great, Anne. Where can it be ordered from? By the way, on the basis of your recommendation, I bought a Murakami book this weekend. I haven't read anything by him before.
Ooh, thanks, Ashlinn - ADM can be ordered from http://www.flamebooks.com
and arrives in 2 days (usually!) or from Amazon (though obviously that's longer ...)
It's also cheaper from Flame directly.
And which Murakami did you get?? Hope you enjoy it!
I got 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle'. Hopefully I chose well. I won't be reading it immediately but thanks for the recommendation. Good luck with ADM, I'll order it with my next batch.
Ooh, you'll love Wind-Up Bird, Ashlinn - one of my favourites! Or rather I hope you do! Let me know what you think when you've read it.
And thanks again, on Michael's behalf.