For what is probably my final galley of 2012 I read Life Death! Prizes! by Stephen May. I requested a copy of the book via NetGalley because the author lives in West Yorkshire, which I love! I received no compensation for the following response, which is my honest opinion.
This book just didn’t inspire me. I thought the premise was a great idea and the title is brilliant, but overall I can’t bring myself to rave about the book. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely great parts and a couple of times I found myself laughing out loud (see the end of this post), but overall I found the story a bit too much to take in and the writing a bit overworked in some spaces. I unquestionably enjoyed Stephen May’s wit, but I just couldn’t empathize or sympathize with the main character, Billy, until the final few pages of the novel and even then I’m not sure if it was for him or for his little brother Oscar.
There were two reasons for this – I felt that Billy’s speech patterns fluctuated a lot and not necessarily in a predictable manner. For most of the book his speech was, what I felt to be, spot on, especially the slang and syntax, but there were times when it felt like he was using a much older person’s language and not when you would think he would be doing this. The second reason, was May’s writing style. It bothered me on a couple of occasions when May threw in a list of social media or drinks or most of his lists really. It felt like he was trying too hard to show he was ‘hip’ and ‘up-to-date’ with the lingo of the youth. But, there were a few times where he did this seamlessly and it was great and humorous, but those he didn’t were more noticeable.
I’m not sure whether to credit May’s writing, or the fact I read the novel as a digital galley, but there were times I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t. The breaks in the galley almost made it feel like there would be a subheading or a font change in the final edition – so it may be more apparent in a physical/final version.
This was, however, one of the more interesting parts of the novel. Trying to determine whether Billy was going crazy, which I definitely thought he was, or whether what he thought was happening was actually happening. It does go to show that even though I didn’t identify with Billy, May’s writing style was strong enough to keep me interested and engaged.
Recommendation: Take it or leave it. There was nothing so spectacular to make me say READ IT! But at the same time nothing so horrid to make me say STAY AWAY! I’ll keep an eye out for more of May’s writing, but I won’t go out of my way to read it unless there’s a great premise and a potentially great story.
Opening Line: “Mum’s funeral takes place a the Millennium Crematorium, a pale brick square that stands cringing in the shadow of the Fun Junction on the edge of town.”
Closing Line: “‘What’s going to become of us, Oscar” I say. ‘We’re going to live happily ever after,’ he says promptly. ‘You know that, don’t you?’ Which is a pretty good answer.” (Whited Out.)
Additional Quotes from Life! Death! Prizes!
“You don’t have to be dead to be a ghost. Look around and you’ll see people who are ghosts in their own lives. Maybe most people are.” (Loc. 62)
“But that’s the trouble with handsome, funny, talented isn’t it? That’s the risk you take. Mediocrity is safer, easier to control. Mediocrity is much less likely to shag the arse off a clit-ringed puppeteer.” (Loc. 1404)