A name you might well recognise from the blog comments here, and across the blogosphere, is ‘Dark Puss’ or ‘Peter the Flautist’ – well, Peter took me up on a challenge a while ago to write a review of Croc Attack by Assaf Gavron. I’m always delighted to post regular readers’ views on books, and since I thought there’d be people better qualified than me to comment on this novel, I was very pleased when Peter offered to review it for Stuck-in-a-Book. Without further ado…
Croc Attack by Assaf Gavron
Simon very kindly sent this book to me to review and I will try my best to write something that won’t let down too much the high standards he has set with his reviews.
The internal battles of the near Middle East, particularly between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, are so horrible, Byzantine and yet sadly so much part of our culture that I am somewhat ashamed to say that I have not read any novels that relate to them. Croc Attack changes all this. The story is straightforward, perhaps even a little cartoonish. The protagonist of the title, Eitan Enoch, narrowly misses being killed in a suicide bomb attack on one of the little buses in Tel Aviv. Further bloody bombings and their inevitable reprisals follow and Croc begins, against his wishes, to become something of a celebrity as the man who cannot be killed. Ultimately this exposure makes him the explicit target of a suicide bomber, Fahmi, who co-narrates the story while lying badly injured and in a coma in hospital. The two stories are neatly entwined with both musing on the inevitability of conflict, the lack of any possible resolution and indeed the almost familial need to go on killing and being killed.
So far so bleak but, despite the gravity of its subject matter, this book isn’t. Indeed it has several moments of, admittedly dark, humour. It also fails to take any obvious sides, empathy and sympathy being shown for all who are caught up in this ghastly conflict. The alternating story telling mostly works, though Fahmi’s is the weaker and there are some implausible coincidences at work in the plot but overall I think the structure works pretty well. There is some interesting commentary on high-tech commerce, Croc works for a company dedicated to the reduction of time wasting in call centres, directory enquiries etc., and on the bear baiting of low grade chat shows. Perhaps the female characters are a little weaker but the thing that did strike me as well described is the strange feeling you get when travelling on public transport in the aftermath of an attack. I live in Central London and travel daily by tube. I can remember vividly the feeling in my mind the day after the 7th of July attacks, the suspicious looks of fellow passengers, and the alarm at sitting next to someone with a rucksack and the complete futility of those concerns since I really had no sane alternatives. Gavron captures this very well and the long term after effect is of course the terrorists’ primary weapon in destabilising society. I haven’t, thankfully, been on the other end of a military reprisal but I am sure that living with the threat that you and your family might be wiped out with no warning by a laser-guided missile must be a very similar experience.
It’s not all death and despair, there are some episodes in which characters are allowed, for a few hours, to escape from their daily fear and profess love and/or lust. Simon usually puts at least one quotation into his reviews and I’ll end with one too.
‘What was the message you wanted to give me?’
A second passed before I realised what she was talking about.
‘I don’t know’ I said. ‘He didn’t get to say it. He was thinking. But I’m pretty sure that he wanted to let you know that he loved you. Something like that.’
She looked at me.
‘His look had that kind of meaning. It wasn’t a “tell her to feed the cats” kind of look.’ I said, staring at the gearstick. ‘And I can understand him.’
‘He didn’t have any cats. He couldn’t stand them.’
‘I can understand him on that one too.’
She smiled. So I wiped her smile with a kiss. Her lips were soft as feathers, as deep and salty as the sea.
I found it a great read, essentially it is a thriller with some genuine political and human insights into the Middle East conflict, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.