Tuesday, 23 May 2017

No Good Deed by John Niven Review

The blurb for No Good Deed drew me in: Alan, a well-to-do food critic and columnist, comes across Craig, an old friend he hasn’t seen in years, and is shocked to find him homeless and living on the streets – a long way from the rich rock star he was in the early ‘90s! In an act of goodwill, Alan takes in Craig and tries to get him back on his feet – except, after briefly enjoying Alan’s comfortable life, Craig decides to have Alan’s life and schemes to take it from him. 

That sounded good to me – a solid thriller. But that doesn’t actually happen. Craig doesn’t try to have Alan’s life by taking it away from him, he just does his best to sabotage it. That bit of false advertising was disappointing to discover as well as a much less compelling story to read overall. The book is really about the anger less successful people feel toward their more successful friends – yup, it’s as banal to read as that observation is! 

John Niven’s latest novel, No Good Deed, is barely an improvement over his godawful last book, Single White Male. The problem, again, is utterly shitty characters, a vapidly shallow theme and barely any story worth reading. 

While Alan is an unlikeable sod, Craig is even less so. So who are we meant to be rooting for – if anyone? Do we want the penniless, ungrateful, miserable cunt Craig to get away with fucking with Alan – the less successful to topple the more successful - or do we want the wealthy, smug, self-satisfied twat to survive? Because I didn’t care for either of them! 

That said, at least Alan did a decent, compassionate thing in taking Craig off the streets, out of the cold and into a warm spare room in his family’s house. He didn’t do it with any thought of reward but just to help out his old mate - egalitarianism at its best – that only makes Craig’s motivation to completely fuck up Alan’s life all the more stupid, petty and damn near sociopathic. I guess the message – besides some people resenting seeing their friends succeed; how hollow! - is not to help the homeless as they’re probably utter shits who not only deserve what they’ve got but will actively work to destroy anyone who tries to help them! That seems to be in keeping with this nasty story. 

The narrative itself is an elongated short story at best. Besides a Farrelly Brothers-esque scene where Craig deliberately blocks up a toilet in Alan’s father-in-law’s house “hilariously” causing a flood of sewage during a fancy dinner party, there’s precious little to Craig’s sabotage of Alan’s life to grab the reader’s interest. A couple of easily overcome obstacles are contrived for Alan to jump over, an underwhelming and rushed finale is bolted on and the forgettable story is wrapped up unsatisfyingly. Numerous unnecessary scenes felt included to pad out the book: the dreary golf “battle” between Alan and Craig (golf is one of the most boring spectator sports in history, down there with curling and cricket), the magazine article in Scotland and multiple extended passages set in bars were all pointless and unentertaining. 

Niven can write well but No Good Deed, along with his last novel, are a long, long way from his glory days with earlier books Kill Your Friends and The Second Coming – I recommend checking those out instead of this. While potential readers should beware the misleading blurb, I’d also suggest skipping this one entirely. Niven may have made me a fan with his earlier books but his latest stuff, full of cynical unpleasantness for the sake of it, has turned me off of reading any more future novels by him – his best work definitely feels behind him with just empty bitterness left to offer. No Good Deed is no good.

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