EARWIG, Brian Catling

First book of 2020. A weird, cruel thing, as warped and sharp and wriggly as barbed wire. The language fascinates:

It was at that moment that his watch slurred, its arms resting on lazy elbows, its tick slowing to a tock.

I love that. And this:

The dramatic change in temperature had not helped. He was shrivelling away to nothing, so that on some nights when his mongrel bladder barked awake and he had to pad along the shivering corridor to the unheated water closet, he could barely find himself, and stood fumbling and pinching in his pyjamas while the thin pipes giggled with ice and the refrigerator in the kitchen shook so deeply that it made all the crockery shudder in nudging, unlit chuckles.

“Giggled with ice.” Catling writes like a painter – he’s also an artist, a sculptor and a poet. And he has a fine eye for the eccentric, revealing stroke:

Her companion Monsieur Edmund was older, an ink-wash of a lounge toad starched with Dracularian elegance; the ancient white hair dubbed into negative, a blue-black ink trickle of it pinned under the arm of his heavy spectacles, their tint even darker.

Dracularian!

This is the story of Aalbert Scellinc, the earwig of the title, introduced in almost Samsaesque terms, an unpleasant and unanchored man of supernatural hearing and mnemenic difficulties. He is being employed, in his latter years, to attend to a young girl with ice teeth and a glass tube in her mouth for transportation of her saliva into ice trays for the production of more teeth. This is the start of the book. It does not become more normal or less disturbing.

It’s an extremely cruel novel, thin like a blade, and I find its concluding movements extraordinarily haunting. An uncomfortable and exquisitely wrought novel to begin the year.