Wednesday, 27 March 2019

You Were Never Really Here

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You Were Never Really Here is a brilliant title, I think, full of possibilities. It drew me to Jonathan Ames' novella, published by Pushkin Vertigo, whose list is eclectic and very interesting. Apparently, this began life as a long short story in 2013, and a somewhat expanded version appeared four years later. I found the novella gripping and very well-written, and my only reservation was that it seemed oddly truncated. Perhaps Ames could have expanded it even further. But at least excessive brevity is a good and rather uncommon fault. There's no flab in his writing. None.

It's the story of Joe, a formidable ex-Marine who is troubled by suicidal thoughts. He specialises in covert rescues of the victims of human traffickers, and through a contact is introduced to a senator whose daughter has become the prey of a criminal gang. Joe's implacability makes him an impressively menacing protagonist, and the story grips like a cobra. There's a good plot twist, and although I did feel frustrated by the way the book ended, the quality of the prose was such that, overall, I was impressed.

The story has been filmed, with Joaquin Phoenix cast as Joe. His performance as a deeply disturbed character is superb. His dialogue coach won't have been over-worked, since he's inarticulate in the extreme, and indeed I did wonder how easy people would it to follow the story if they haven't read the book.

Nevertheless, the film has attracted excellent reviews, and comparisons to Taxi Driver. Personally, I don't think it's in the same league as that classic movie, and I wasn't convinced by the rather obtrusive soundtrack, either. But Phoenix's acting, and some excellent photography make it worth watching. The book is better, though.

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