After loving Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, I wanted to read more from the author. He only had one other published novel, so I bought a copy of Ablutions and set to reading. I won’t deny how happy I was to see that the book was very short. Not even 200 pages! This was going to be an easy read. And while the prose was certainly easy and enjoyable, the content was dark and difficult. It took getting through the whole book to come to terms with wether deWitt had gone too far in his dark depictions of debauchery and apathy.
Ablutions is the story of a barman who hates people and hates his life. That’s basically it. There is some more plot in the latter third, but mostly it’s a book describing the character’s life as he lives it. The interesting twist is that the book is written in the second-person. So it’s not just a character, the character is “you”. This is what makes it a bit of a difficult read. Not only are we let in on all these dark thoughts and unsavoury characters, but we’re made to feel as though we are experiencing and thinking it all. Hardly enjoyable.
And I think that’s where I come down on the book overall. I can see what deWitt was doing. His experiment in form makes the book unique, and certainly one of the more interesting novels I’ve read, but it’s not one I felt happy to have read. It made me feel icky and gross, and though there’s a thin layer of dark humour to the it all, I found the humour was a bit too surface-level to really balance things out. Definitely a well-written book, but to ends I cannot really say I liked or can recommend.