Right, well, last night I finished the latest instalment in The Life of Jaz: How Not to Survive, the follow-up to My Side of the Story.
I was struggling for a way to phrase it, but someone else has managed it better on Amazon: lovable but unlikeable.
This isn't the story of a bad guy gone wrong. It is a young, gay theatre of the absurd (with an homage to the incredibly boring Waiting for Godot). I may not like Jaz, but I wish him well.
I think I enjoyed it slightly less than the first round, simply because, in My Side, I was on his side. I empathised quite strongly with his predicament, very little of which felt like it was directly his fault, plus he was young(er), and we've all done daft things growing up. It felt like a coming of age story; the completion of a process.
This follow-up is a bit darker. It bounces from one horrific disaster to the next, like watching a train derail in slow motion. And, this time, it mostly is Jaz's fault. Sure, there are some kookie, messed-up characters, but he really doesn't help himself at all, to the point where you start to run out of sympathy. It's like he's had a self-preservation bypass.
Most of the characters in Jaz's life he describes in terms of how bat-shit or aggravating they are. From his mum to his drama teacher. There really are some doozies. Towards the end I started to have this schism, wondering whether any of the characters were actually genuinely nuts, or whether they were all fairly normal people that were being completely caricatured through Jaz's eyes. Was he a magnifying glass to the frayed edges we all have?
I considered it some more and thought, no, actually, I know a host of people that could match what he's describing, he's just unlucky enough to be surrounded by them.
At the same time, the line 'you probably think I'm selfish' did start to ware thin. In the first book, I always answered that with 'not at all, I see where you're coming from,' but by the desk-spewing audition scene I was nodding along thinking 'yes, extract head from arse, put down the party fodder.'
But, like a train crash, you can't stop watching. It's this crazy shaggy dog story that pulls you along on the end of a leash. Like Jaz, I have a fairly limited tolerance for sap, I'm a sap-free zone whenever possible, but I did find the final outburst with Fellows pretty moving, and the last addendum was arousing enough to wonder what happens next. It felt like a bit of a sudden ending. A nice one, but it left me with a lot of questions about 'what happened to Eli?'
I rather like the idea of the next one (and I would definitely read a next one) set in double-vision. Alternating chapters from Jaz and Eli's perspectives. It would be interesting to see Jaz from the outside looking in, but I doubt he'd be willing to share his audience.