Posts filed under ‘Lamb Wally’

Wally Lamb — The Hour I First Believed

Wally Lamb began his new novel about the Columbine school massacre, The Hour I First Believed (follow-up to 1998’s I Know This Much Is True), on the day of the shooting itself. Nine years later, here we are. A 750-page brick with a preface, afterword, notes, bibliography and a list of Columbine-related charities. Don’t say this man doesn’t take his work seriously. It will sell millions of copies, so enjoy the world’s forests while you can.


The Columbine setting gives the book spray-on seriousness (Lamb even includes real journal entries from the killers), but it struck me as a cheap trick. Lamb doesn’t tell us anything new about the killings. He hasn’t unearthed new details (this is unequivocally fiction) and he doesn’t try to empathise with the killers — his analysis extends as far as “Oh God, wasn’t it tragic?”. For Lamb’s oddly named narrator, Caelum Quirk, the massacre witnessed by his wife kickstarts an interminable odyssey through his family history.

“Caelum”, by the way, is Latin for “Heaven” — I think this is what Lamb calls “symbolism” and I call “corny”.

Can a work of this enormity really be bad? The answer, tragically, is yes. The length is unjustified by the plot, which rambles on and on and on, as though Lamb lacked the confidence to send a shorter, punchier work to the publishers. This is one for speed readers. And not because of its length, but because of how it’s written. Slick, neat, professional, functional, events-dialogue-events-dialogue — poetic as a patio, evocative as Aldi. Reading this dull and humourless book at my usual 30 pages an hour, I nearly lost the will to live.

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October 2, 2008 at 3:43 pm 5 comments


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