The Fictional Window

A review of The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh; narrated by Robert Carlyle.

Read Time: approx 4-7 min

Sometimes, in the recommendation of another, is unexpected beauty.

Because of Once Upon A Time, I have been slowly investigating Robert Carlyle’s other work, taking my time. While bingeing has its value, so does anticipation. Galloping through a dessert is a poor choice, of course. At least a year ago I discovered that he had recorded an audio book but I couldn’t find it where I usually buy audiobooks so I left it unresearched. Until now.

The Cutting Room bubbled up through a fan community I was perusing and I decided it was time. So I tried again to go buy it. Failure. With a reasonable amount of effort, even searching a British site, I could not find a place to buy the audiobook. So, with a grimace of distaste, I used a fan-created audio collection to stream it and began to listen.

A cautious stranger recently recommended this book to me. Upon learning of my interest in Mr. Carlyle’s work, she looked at me sideways, uncertain: just so you know, it’s homoerotic. I raised my eyebrows in surprise and smiled at her. I responded: great!

Behind my cultured and accepting (I hope) smile I was thinking: I guess I’ll find out if I like that kind of thing; I haven’t really tried reading much of that. With the attitude of trying something new I felt uncertain about, I invited Mr. Carlyle to read to me for an evening. That evening stretched into three and the book kept me up later than I had planned more than once. As expected, Mr. Carlyle’s performance is riveting, smooth and adds further depth to the work I would never have been able to imagine for myself. His background lends authenticity and hearing his singing voice is an unexpected treat.

The Cutting Room was not what I was expecting based on the qualification I received with the recommendation. Though I spent the first half the book wondering what drew Mr. Carlyle to the work, I spent the second half thinking that this fell directly in his wheelhouse. From the recommender’s dubious smile, I expected it to be simply, or even mostly smut. It wasn’t. Sure, there are some delightfully adult scenes, but this is substantive.

The book itself has a sort of lusciously elegant texture to the prose but without over-complication. At its core, it is a mystery sans the tired who-dun-it trope. Refreshing. This is an inviting perspective on personal investigation which I find compelling and very real. Our protagonist, Rilke, finds himself in a shady conundrum between his curiosity, his morality, the law and self-preservation.

The Cutting Room has a sort of timeless quality. At first listen, the time period remained vague and I wondered if this story took place pre or post internet; a sharp demarcation due to the sudden and extensive permeation of instantly available knowledge. Only later did it become apparent that this story takes place in the age of cell phones. The reason for my confusion, I think, resides with the descriptive choices. Ms. Welsh describes a world through the lens of antiquity, both Glasgow itself and Rilke’s line of work. The narrative reflection of Rilke’s worldview impresses me. I have never read any other work by Ms. Welsh, but if she actively chose her descriptive style to match her character’s chronological orientation to the world around him, I am in awe.

As I mentioned, I am a Once fan, and as such, spend most of my literary time in the urban fantasy section because I love it’s creativity and myriad possibilities. I find Urban Fantasy to be the perfect happy medium between the blunt quality of much real world fiction (which can drive the escapist reader away) and the losses which can occur during the world-building of an entirely fantastical landscape. Thematically, Urban Fantasy provides a platform for an oblique look at something unfaceable head-on while giving the reader just enough of the familiar to be a comfort and a steady scaffold for exploration. But I am not confined to what I consider the brightest flowers in the garden. Sometimes, it is the scent that matters or the uniqueness of the bloom. Which brings us to recommendation.

I would never have picked this up off the shelf without the connection to Mr. Carlyle. I do not know Mr. Carlyle and likely I will never so much as pass him on the street but what I do know of the man is that he and I share certain tastes in fiction. If he liked it, I probably will too, though he seems to have a tougher stomach lining that I do about certain things. Mr. Carlyle has invited me to explore and I have, for a while now, leaned on a trust that if he has spent his time on something, there is a reason which will interest and often educate me. It seems that some people pick a corner of the sky and decide to hold it up. They bend their talents and energies toward moving humanity forward as they are able and interested. While trying not to be too presumptuous about someone I have never met, Mr. Carlyle strikes me as such a person.

As I said, this would not have crossed my desk without a recommendation. While it lacks the extra cushion Urban Fantasy can sometimes provide, Welsh eases us slowly toward the thematic material so that by the time it is apparent, we’re invested and interested. Difficult subject matters such as this need a little care and Welsh gave us that. While in the back of my mind, I am aware of certain revolting proclivities, I have chosen to look away and focus on what I can do for the world with my skill set and interests. The value in this work is in the hand-holding we get as we walk into the dark. The reader gets to hold Rilke’s hand and draw comfort from his morality while we consider what we may have turned away from, ignored or even been unaware of. Perhaps even, a reader with particular interests may reexamine the moral consequences of such interests. And The Cutting Room accomplishes all of this, amazingly, without being overtly judgmental. The Cutting Room is an invitation to explore, to ponder and to reflect. We can look at the world from the safety of our fictional windows.

In the end, I bought the book from Amazon, so I was able to pay Ms. Welsh, but how will I pay Mr. Carlyle for his work? Being indebted to the Dark One seems a lousy proposition.

What do you think Rilke did with the books?

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