I’ve long heard of this mysterious novel that Nick Cave wrote. Since he is, after all, one of my favorite poets, I was very curious to find this rare book. Well, now I have a copy, requisitioned from
a ship that passed in the night an ex. Sadly, it’s not something I can in good conscience recommend to anyone. We all know Nick Cave is one morbid motherfucker. He’s mellowed very slightly with age, becoming at least more spiritual, if not less fascinated with the grotesque. His debut novel was published in1989, when the author at the start of his journey towards some kind of enlightenment. Within his darkness, he’s always been a seeker of hope, which is what makes his music inspiring instead of depressing. There’s a sense of redemption on his more recent albums. I’d be curious to see what he’d put in a novel nowadays. In 1989, however, he was unremittingly bleak in outlook. And the Ass Saw the Angel took me over two months to struggle through. Partly, it’s the language. There are a lot of words that are either archaic or just plain made up, which grinds down the speed of reading. What really makes it hard to read is the infernal morbidness, the vivid eye for bilious detail, the fevered atmosphere (think Southern Gothic on heroin) and the suffering, the cruelty, the hopeless flailing, the doomishness, ugh. A random flip-through gives us this:
Mah brother stopped playing and rose into the air. His wings were black and veinous and oozed a viscid phlegm. He rubbed two hairy legs and put the harp which was now a crown upon his head. Ah tried to fly but ah had no wings yet, just a white hairless wigging maggot’s body – helpless on mah back – on mah back.
Veinous, viscid, uggr, bolus, cloacal, empurpled, deadtime, yay! Here’s a description of a light bulb – “A sickly yellow glow pulsed from the bulb and, spellbound, mah eyed focused on the droning bolus. Perched on mah bed, ah watched the bulb become a living, breathing thing, like some ghastly human appendage – a jaundiced, convulsing organ, pumping sticky gobs of wobbling light.” Imagine this for page after page. Remember The Carny? From Your Funeral…My Trial? Imagine that song stretched to three hundred pages – there’s even a nag named Sorrow. I read it so you don’t have to. Just go pick up a copy of Murder Ballads, or rent The Proposition.