History Repeating – ‘Mr Peanut’ by Adam Ross

I had heard so many good things about ‘Mr Peanut’, I was really looking forward to reading it. Once again, I found my experience damned by high expectations.  Whilst Ross is clearly a talented writer, ‘Mr Peanut’s’ cyclic structure, meandering rambles on the absurdities of life and apparent lack of plot, made for a rather tedious whole.  That’s not to say that the novel doesn’t have anything going for it.  Some of the meandering rambles were fascinating (like the potted history of Hitchcock), and the novel’s main assertion, that nothing hurts like indifference, is accurate and devastating.  The problem is indifference can get a little dull, especially if it’s stuck on repeat.

The structure of this book is a work of art, literally.  Inside the front cover of my book is a reprint of an M.C. Escher drawing; one of the ones that loops impossibly around itself.  In essence the plot is a Mobius strip.  So what starts at the front of the book (a suspected murder), moves to the back, (as part of a novel within a novel), before taking centre stage once again, but by this point I’d sort of lost what was meant to be real, and what was the story within the story.

The book that meanders all over the place.  The murder victim (or potential suicide) is Alice Pepin, wife of David Pepin, a computer games producer.  Their marriage has been in stasis for a long time (due to some moving events I won’t reveal).  Did he kill her? Did her pay somebody to kill her?, And who is the peculiar character called Mobius?  Mobius is eventually picked up by the police, but instead of a standard interrogation, he convinces the questioning detective to reveal the story of his life.  The detective is former surgeon Sam Sheppard, a man convicted, in dubious circumstances, of the murder of his wife.  Sam Sheppard existed in real life; his notorious case was the inspiration for TV series and film ‘The Fugitive’.  Sheppard’s innocence or guilt has never been fully established, and the author draws out what may have happen in (excessive) detail.  Finally, the other policemen involved in the Pepin case, has a wife who he dreams of murdering; a wife who has refused to get out of bed for 5 months, whilst she waits for her husband to understand her.

So at the centre of this rather frustrating novel, is a plot that goes around in circles, but focuses on three marriages in debilitating stasis.  The marriages are well observed, there’s some beautiful descriptive prose, but the novel is often boring.  One of the novel’s central themes is that history repeats itself, and so do mistakes within marriage.  All true perhaps, but after you’ve done several iterations, with one couple, you don’t really feel the need to do some more with the next.

Stephen King is quoted  on the cover as saying that ‘Mr Peanut’ induced nightmares, which is possibly one of the most misleading blurb statements I’ve ever read (apart from maybe the ones that appear on the cover of ‘Under the Dome’ that suggest it’s anything other than an execrable waste of time and paper).  I can see how this novel might induce sleep, but nightmares? Really?  So all in all, I found this a dissatisfying read.  I was expecting a clever crime novel, but I think Ross rather overcooked his ideas and the resulting novel is dry and hard to digest.

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