Combat Camera. A. J. Somerset. In the Argo Catalog.
The title of this book is a lie. The novel purports to be about a retired war photographer and his life after a liquor fueled failed assignment. Perhaps lie is to strong a word, the main character is such a man.Â I expected him to have trouble adjusting to society and everyday living, perhaps some PTSD, in short a novel wherein the main character’s past pervades the work. Instead I got a drunkard that is photographing cheap pornos in Toronto. The novel does not hinge on the war past, but rather on the fact that the guy is a loser. I read this book all the way to the end in order to give the author the benefit of the doubt. I was hoping he had a point, a purpose or was going somewhere. The book rambled on and on about nothing in particular, it was repetitive, the voice changed in inane ways that felt terribly intrusive and ineffective. Written as though the drunk camera man had taken up a pen this bookÂ wasted my time.
One way Somerset works the photographer’s past into the novel is through slurred theories of what history is. The observations offered in the book remind me of days in my youth when I was high or drunk and thought I was brilliantly understanding the world with a clairvoyance and dignity others could only dream of, that is to say they are facile. “All of history is amnesia.” “taking his own photograph to prove that he existed.” These deep observations about history are alongside such words of wisdom as, “Disappointment is one of the two fates that we must all eventually meet.” The narrator comes off as a rather stupid and shallow thinking individual. This may be on purpose and explained by the booze problem, if so, this fails because it renders the main character a bore to watch despite what is a strong plot line.
The book itself falls very flat. The tedious lectures are not the only mediocre part. Passages such as: “He smiled often and was a good-looking man and Zane liked him on sight, except for the fact that he was an egomaniac, a psychopath, and a drug addict. And certain flaws are hard to overlook.” are flat and boring, I cannot help but yawn. My mind wandered as I read this book. It did not grab me and sadly did not get any better.
I am not sure what exactly went wrong but somewhere in the writing Somerset took a good idea, an interesting plot and wrecked it with poor writing and lazy thinking. He is primarily a non-fiction writer and if I met him (while I would encourage him to keep trying his hand at an artistic pursuit) I would suggest he keep his day job because surely he is better at it.