A thrilling read

For a fiction lover who is used to ‘pure’ literary texts for a long time and also for one who does not have a good opinion of the so called ‘thrillers’, the experience of reading Lee Child’s 18th novel Never Go Back may bring in a surprise, quite a pleasant one too.  

Thrillers have their own eminence among the fiction reading public. Fictions of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and others have been extremely readable and their popularity is in some sense universal. Modern fictions like Never Go Back, which also belong to this genre enjoy greater patronage of young readers in Europe and America, and in India too in recent years. The success of Never Go Back lies in its pleasant combination of all the desirable features of a popular thriller with some of the contextually driven ‘literary’ elements. Like any of the thrillers, the pace of the story in Never Go Back is fast. The book has the quality of engaging the readers intelligently on several problems presented in the novel. The pace of the story — note the story time set in less than three days — is fast. The plots are thick and complexly knit, which makes the reader feel the intense mystery. 

Jack Reacher, the protagonist of the novel, is, in a way, a stereotype thriller hero. He is extremely good, strong and a ‘manly’ man, who is admired by women and envied by men. He is tall, heavy with a strong muscular physique without any body fat, and interestingly, he has acquired these physical traits by birth without any deliberate attempt to acquire them. His impulsive nature to be the first to attack his enemies physically is also his birth trait. His well built body bears many scars, revealing his involvement in various brutal attacks (In an intimate moment with his girlfriend, Susan Turner, she touches the scars on his body one by one and Jack explains the time and the method in which each scar made their appearance on his body). Both Susan and Jack are jailed in neighbouring cells with the charges of criminal assault, adultery, treason, espionage, and bribery. They escape theatrically from there to prove that all the charges leveled against them are just fabricated in order to save the vested interests.

 Subsequently, they travel to places to prove their innocence by cars, by bus and by flight, which are all marked by their highly thought out actions to catch the culprits using their own methods. Jack steals money, breaks the wrists and the backbones of the goons, and always contemplates on how the enemy might probably attack him. In the end, like any of the thrillers, all the dirty lots involved are exposed and the horror of the connections between the defense establishment and the drug peddlers is established. Jack and Susan, though they have many things in common and have been friends for quiet sometime, part their company without much ado.

For an Indian reader of this novel, there are many notable interesting linguistic deviant expressions like —   ‘your ass is mine’, ‘full of piss and wind’, ‘shit out of luck’, ‘shit has hit the fan’, ‘someone has panties in a real wad’ — are used by men and women in the novel naturally. Lee Child has literary inclinations too. Apart from passing references to Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Trotsky and others, for a ‘literary’ reader, there is a whole lot of images and symbols. For instance, the reference to taking 11-minute shower by Jack before or after an important event/decision could be attributed to the process of sanitisation of his mind rather than his body. Similarly, Jack’s carrying only a foldable toothbrush where ever he goes is also indicative of the internal cleansing process involved in all his activities. Likewise, the labels Romeo and Juliet, the two persons who are implicated in the drug business, cannot be just be taken as bad characters, they could be allegory of the ‘clean’ exterior with a ‘dirty’ interior. 

But, the consciously contrived events in the story, though cleverly manipulated, lack the impetuous nature that is usually found in a good ‘literary’ fiction. The spontaneity involved in the exploratory creative process of a ‘literary’ story hardly exists here.

 Everything is preset and there is nothing for the writer or the reader to explore. Besides, for a non-American, the over use of acronyms is highly distracting. After reading the book, one cannot but wonder at the talent of the writer who manages the complex things with such ease and brevity. If people are fond of thrillers, they have every reason for that.

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