Beginning with potentially the best opening line to a novel I’ve read to date:
“Eastman, the timid bastard, look at him!”
It’s punchy, immersive, and gets straight to it – for me, this is the kind of opening that hooks me in from the offset. The paragraph that continues from this line follows suit.
“This is Eastman at the beginning of his journey, not the end. And what was he doing? Paralyzed? Hardly. Eastman was cowardly ducking.”
Eastman is not the most likeable of characters… if he were real I’d find him sexist and inconsiderate, and want nothing to do with him. And yet, as I turn each page gripped, I want to know more. It’s a testament to Alex Gilvarry’s writing style that makes you end up with that feeling when there is a character you hate to love. I don’t love Eastman, but Gilvarry makes me give him the time of day and at momentarily – gasp – feel sorry for him. Upon reading the blurb I immediately thought of Saul Bellow’s Seize The Day – a novella I love. There’s a certain skill in making a book loveable about an, at times, repulsive character. Gilvarry even references Bellow in interviews as being a writer he naturally gravitates towards to, and it’s easy to see the influence Bellow’s work has on Eastman Was Here.
There are a range of characters all built initially on a stereotype that soon grows into something more authentic; Gilvarry gives us a character type we can recognise, but just as we get comfortable with forming an opinion of them, he changes it up. Eastman is a womaniser, but only his “unicorn” (wife Penny) has his heart – you can see why his character from the outset is frustrating, with “unicorn” being an incredibly annoying and sexist term to peg a woman with that unfortunately seems to be catching in real life, from Facebook memes to having its own entry on Urban Dictionary. For those unfamiliar, a unicorn is a flawless, model and rare type of woman, hence being likened to a mythical creature. However despite this, Eastman remains an engaging character. We might not feel for him at all times, but we certainly want to see how it all works out, that is, if it even does. Penny is an interesting character – though boxed in as being this perfect mythical breed of woman by Eastman, she certainly isn’t that. Gilvarry creates an equally strong and sexually deviant counterpart for Eastman to rival with. Rather than act weak and submissive, Penny holds power over Eastman even in her absence. I think this redeems the book of some of the gendered vulgarities in Eastman.
The novel is perverse and wildly bold, from its highly charged tone, to its language, through to its sexual reveries. The book’s content is as striking as its cover artwork. It certainly feels as though Eastman is here, and I look forward to seeing what character Gilvarry creates next. You don’t need to love a character to love the book.
Eastman Was Here by Alex Gilvarry (Viking, 9781101981504, h/b, £19.99)
Post by Tanyel