Sunday 13 April 2008

A Wee Review - Alina by Jason Johnson

Alina -- you say Aleena like this xx – is the second novel from Jason Johnson. And it’s much more ambitious than his excellent debut, Woundlicker. The story takes us to Belfast, London and Romania. Henry, a nice guy weighed down by a tough childhood and bipolar disorder, inherits an internet chat site ( – see what Mr Johnson did there?) that caters to the... lonelier individual. Shuff, a hard Belfast man fresh out of jail, teams up with Henry as a bodyguard on his trip to Romania to meet Alina, one of the girls working for the adult chat site.

Meanwhile, Frank “the Fess” Cleary is trying to figure out why he’s not in his nursing home bed and who put him in the strange steel box without food, water or light but containing an abundance of mystery gunk.

The story moves fast and packs a lot of insanity. Again, Johnson lives up to the title awarded to him by the critics -- The Irish Irvine Welsh – and refuses to flinch as he deals out shocking internal dialogue and harsh violence. You may need to take a moment every few chapters, draw a good deep breath and remind yourself it’s all just a story.

I can’t put my finger on the why, but both of Johnson’s novels were very easy and gripping reads for me. He’s got a voice that appeals and uses it well. The style of the book is quite sprawling as there are multiple POVs and tenses put to use. It seems a little messy in places, but it works. I got to know Henry, his fears and hopes, and liked him for knowing his weaknesses, even though he hadn’t worked up the nerve to tackle them. Shuff is a tough character to put across. At times he’s likeable and great fun, but the more you learn of him, the more disturbing he becomes. And Alina. Poor Alina. If you don’t feel for her, you’re just not human.

Bleak as it is, the story depends heavily on Johnson’s brand of black humour to help the reader through the grisly bits. I laughed out loud a few times. Proper surprised laughter that sounds a bit weird. And it was mostly Shuff, the grisliest character, who inspired the sniggers, chuckles and snorts.

So, Alina, a book of chaos, violence and desperation, will take you to a gritty world, freak you out and linger in your thoughts. I think it’s a winner.

Now, would somebody talk the man into writing another fiction novel? I’ve heard he’s writing a self help book at the minute. If it’s anything like the philosophy Shuff Sheridan adopted in Alina, I’m moving to Peru.


Anonymous said...

It's a very worthy blog this one, just wanted to add my two penneth, as I've been browsing but not buying...

Keep it up Brennan!

Gerard Brennan said...

Cheers, Deniz.

Stop by any time.