StillPublication date: 24/04/1995
Ricky's head is full of voices. The voices of bewildered guests, of his dead relations and lost wives, of his favourite film crew and the movie masters he never remotely matched – above all of the elusive figure of love that flickers in and out of his life through the dazzling scenes of his final creation: a movie without pictures or sound, words ascending on a screen at the party of the millennium to which you, of course, are invited.
But stay alert – for there's serious, perhaps even fatal, business afoot. Behind Ricky's personal and hilarious odyssey into a long-lost familial past lie the phantoms of our forgotten histories. Whether following his great-uncle down the linden tree avenue of an English public school in 1913, or flailing boldly through 1990s Houston, or watching his grandmother in a stifling attic room the film unit can barely fit into, Ricky's own voice moves with artless agility and profound, if unlikely, compassion.
Adam Thorpe's first novel, Ulverton, was widely hailed as a masterpiece. Still is a headlong ride through the horrors and depredations of our century.
Reviews were divided fifty-fifty into unpleasant and ecstatic. The unpleasant won the day. But it is a novel that goes on breathing, thanks to a loyal few (who keep being added to). Avant-garde? Not really: its roots are in Laurence Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy'. I just let Ricky speak, and had a lot of fun.
'This is a prodigiously rich and allusive book… We haven't been exposed to such a Rabelaisian gusto of language, such an endless jacuzzi of slang, film-crew jargon and erudition since Ulysses and Finnegans Wake: so much quirky humour since Tristram Shandy… if you want to claim that you have lived through this century, that you think you "understand" its peculiar English seas, its psychological immensities – not least those of self-deception – here is your book.'
'Adam Thorpe shakes English fiction to its vowels… Still experiments with moving prose, ignoring constraints of print and page. Sit back and enjoy a command performance.'
'A descent into madness and the phantoms of our forgotten histories, all served up in a style that is as English as treason.'
'Richard Thornby is showing the movie of his life in his mind. Read this 570-page monologue and you'll swear you saw it too – cast, camera angles, soundtrack, atmospheric lighting, the whole big-screen experience. The story, which is one of class, love, war, family, failure and resignation, veers from posh to ordinary, from Dad in Enfield to students in Houston, and the different patterns of speech are mimicked brilliantly as the narration surges along. A superb novel.'
'At last we have a novel that attempts to take on cinema by fighting back… an often funny and moving attempt to redefine the mutual territories they occupy.'
'A voluminous and yet minutely detailed novel, brimful with ideas and narrated with zest and confidence.'
'One of Thorpe's triumphs is Thornby – a demotic collision of stage-cabbie Norf Lunnon with hey-buddy mid-Atlantic… Still has the vertiginous brilliance of the Shandean tradition. It is digressive, poignant and thoroughly enjoyable.'
'Still [is] a novel fired by a historical imagination which historians should envy.'
'Original, technically amazing… an extraordinary masterpiece.'
'Adam Thorpe's movie masterpiece.'
'Complex and playful, joyous and devastating, something as down-right relevant as the tip of your nose… Still is actually a film in fiction. It's as bright and disjointed as The Waste Land'
'Enduring, effervescent… A masterpiece of slipstreaming, sinuous prose'
'Still is a much-needed reminder that the novel still offers possibilities which have barely been glanced at after more than three hundred years of practice'
'A modernist's treat… profane, poetic, pompous and hilarious'