Review: The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

booksThe Cutting Room is a beautiful hybrid of literary fiction and a crime novel. A tight and gripping plot, suspense, murder, a doggedly persistent protagonist and handed to us in lyrically crooked prose.

An ageing auctioneer Rilke discovers some disturbing photographs in a client’s house and goes on a dangerous journey in finding the fate of the people in them.

Rilke is a character that really surprised me. His seedy and caustic perspective and dour pessimistic view of himself tricks you at first into thinking that is all there is to him but as the story progresses we see past his voice to the bleeding heart underneath. Despite his sour words his actions prove him to be one of life’s optimists when it comes to humanity.

The story flickers through shades of an overcast sky and Welsh illustrates again and again the petty cruelties Rilke and his circle do and have done and how it is nothing compared to the evil some human beings are capable of.

Glasgow is filtered through every part of this book enough to be a character in its own right. Welsh has strewn the dark, the seedy glamour and the desperation of its underbelly throughout the story. It is so visual I could see the characters in the dark rainy weather. Welsh paints physical appearance so vividly I could see them instantly. The boy too young for Rilke that he is infatuated with, the detective inspector, the old lady with the house full of treasures and Rose, Rilke’s partner in the auction house.

Later that evening I stretched myself across Rose’s Emperor-size bed, playing with the glass of wine she had given me, holding it up to the light, watching the flame through the ruby filter and beyond it Rose’s reflection, bathed in the dim glow of the trembling offertory candles.

“So good for the complexion.”

It was restful watching Rose metamorphose into herself. She sat at her dressing table shrine, slightly flushed from her bath, her damp hair piled high on her head. I was conscious of a pride that heterosexual men must feel. I was going out on the town with a beautiful woman. It was just a shame about where we were going.

The only criticism I have is the quotes that introduce each chapter. The book didn’t need them and although I like the snippets from Blake, Poe, Rimbaud and others I felt they made the novel seem like it was trying to be something it wasn’t.

I want to see more of Rilke. I think he’s a strong enough protagonist to carry a string of crime novels. Louise Welsh has made me greedy for more literary crime. I will definitely be reading her other books (my reading list is now way too long).

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