Book review: The Death of all Things Seen

IT’S easy to see what Michael Collins was trying to achieve in The Death of all Things Seen.

Book review: The Death of all Things Seen

He tried to write a bracing critique of a society in which there are alarming distances between people.

He sets this distance against the backdrop of the financial crash of 2008.

While he succeeds on occasion, for the most part, the novel is bloated, shallow and disappointingly bland.

Collins is an incredibly distinguished writer, however his latest novel falls short in most respects.

The ability to write with a lyrical quality is still there, but his characters lack any depth.

This is most notably the case with Norman, the novel’s central character, who is both dull and unrealistic.

While Norman is meant to be the novel’s central character, he doesn’t feature as often as he should.

The novel is frequently taken over by the wide array of supporting characters.

Joanne, Norman’s neighbour and now nanny, is one of the more engaging of these. Collins captures her vulnerabilities and fears frequently with real empathy.

Nate — who is introduced as the son of Norman’s mother’s lover, is also uninteresting.

Ursula, his deceased lover, who we only ever get to know through reminiscence, is far more engaging.

The unnecessary overload of characters is the greatest failing of The Death of All Thing Seen.

There are too many people, and few of them are well-written or thought out.

Norman and Nate are impossible to engage with. Perhaps more interesting would have been the story of Norman’s parents.

Their death, which occurs in a prologue at the beginning of the novel, is easily more interesting than most of Norman’s plot. At some point in planning The Death of all Things Seen, Collins seems to have forgotten who it was really about.

It is this that makes the novel such a frustrating experience.

What is so frustrating about the many failings of The Death of all Things Seen is that this story should have been safe in Collins’ capable hands.

It is almost a decade since the financial crash hit, so it makes sense that writers would now start to interrogate and question the kind of society that allowed such a disaster to occur.

Collins should have been able to approach this with understanding, but The Death of all Things Seen is a feeble attempt.

Accompanying the plethora of dull characters is the confusing narrative that makes up much of the novel.

Collins is intent upon allowing each character to tell their own story, but it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with them all. Most unnecessary is the inexplicable perspective of Kenneth, Norman’s ex-boyfriend.

In a bizarre sequence, he has a phone conversation with Joanne — a woman who he has never met or had a conversation with. He pours his heart out to her in an outrageously self- indulgent conversation.

It reads like bad poetry. Not only is it badly written, it also makes no sense and reeks of a lazy desire to understand a character without any real work behind it.

Like much of the story, it adds nothing to the novel.

Collins has an extraordinary command of the English language. Some of the writing in The Death of all Things Seen is undeniably beautiful, and it’s in these sections that this talent shines through.

However, not enough effort was dedicated to fleshing out the characters or the plot.

After 330 pages, you still won’t have much understanding of what the book is meant to be. There is no incentive to keep reading.

The novel is filled with bland and flat characters and is persistently dull.

While it may have occasional merit, The Death of All Things Seen offers little more than occasional insight.

The Death of all Things Seen

Michael Collins

Head of Zeus, €16.99

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