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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jonathan Trigell

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To purchase Cham

Title: Cham
Author: Jonathan Trigell
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 276 pages
Availability: Cham - US
Cham - UK
Cham - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : lots of very good writing -- but too much in search of something to say

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 17/11/2007 James Urquhart
The Guardian . 1/12/2007 Carrie O'Grady
The Guardian . 16/8/2008 Alfred Hickling
The Independent . 17/1/2008 Peter Carty
The LA Times . 29/3/2009 Richard Rayner
Mail & Guardian . 14/3/2008 Jane Rosenthal
Sydney Morning Herald . 28/12/2007 David Messer

  Review Consensus:

  With reservations, of varying degress, but most taken by aspects of it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Itchy's self-loathing and the marauding rapist all keep energy and suspense levels high. Fuelled by booze, Trigell’s ski-bum hedonism does for extreme winter sports what Alex Garland’s The Beach did for backpacking -- snippets from the Romantic poets standing in for Garland’s Thai fantasia." - James Urquhart, Financial Times

  • "But there is something fake about his novel, too. Is it really necessary for nearly every character to have a scar, the details of which are relayed to us the minute we meet them? Do we need to read Itchy's boyhood attempts at literary pastiches of Shelley, Byron and Dr Polidori? (...) And then there are the non sequiturs: blank statements that come out of nowhere, about how someone likes to drink their tea, say." - Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

  • "(L)ike Chamonix's famous black runs, Trigell's narrative goes downhill fast." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "The plot hooks are prominent, yet snag us effectively. (...) Where the prose lacks elegance it compensates with pace, as Trigell propels us insistently around the slalom of his tale. The main narrative is made more measured, however, by interpolations of historical material on Byron, Shelley and other Romantic superstars, plus three short stories inspired by Romantic texts and supposedly written by Itchy as a student. If it is hard to believe he authored them, that is because they are outstanding imitations, and some of the best material in the novel." - Peter Carty, The Independent

  • "There's wit here, and a serial rapist, and a noir plot that does get going." - Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times

  • "After a deliciously dark trawl through a few months of Itchy's life the novel winds up on a lighter note, which is not entirely satisfactory. Forgiveness, atonement and a return to normal life are managed too easily. However, this novel is well worth reading." - Jane Rosenthal, Mail & Guardian

  • "Itchy's increasing obsession with the rapist, combined with the frequent alcohol-induced blank spots in his memory, turn Cham into an unusual kind of murder mystery, with the chief investigator also being the chief suspect. Further details would spoil the ending of a fine story but, along the way, Trigell creates a convincing picture of the tourists and foreign workers -- mostly English -- who inhabit the ski fields, as well as Itchy's personal crises." - David Messer, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title of the novel, Cham, is short for the name of the French Alpine resort of Chamonix, an appropriate sham-name for a town of many illusions -- and the lost English protagonist of the novel, who goes by the ignominious name of Itchy. Itchy is something of a ski bum, spending his nights tending bar as well as doing other odd jobs when they come his way but really only interested in skiing. He drinks a lot and consistently, has sex that he generally barely remembers, and spends most of his time with friends who live similar lives, part of a largely lost tribe of expats who can't escape the hold this lifestyle has on them.
       Itchy's is a mock-Byronic life -- heavy on the mockery, all around --, and Trigell lays it on good and thick, with chapter-epigraphs from Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and the like. The famous story of how Frankenstein -- "A story of Geneva and Chamonix, of relentless pursuit and living hell" -- came to be written also plays a significant role.
       Something happened in Itchy's uni days. He didn't finish university, and whatever traumatic experience he had there obviously still haunts him. The pieces are slowly filled in, as Trigell recounts some of what happened back then -- concentrating also on one course Itchy took, in 'Romantic Period Literature'. Itchy tried real hard there, because the girl of his dreams, Tina, was also in his tutorial group. And the professor had a little game for the students, too, creating a small writing prize where students were invited to submit "Gothic ghost tales" such as might have been written by the others at Villa Diodati, in the style of Byron or Shelley or Polidori. Itchy submitted three stories -- covering all the bases -- and these are also included in the novel. And the stories also have something to do with why Itchy wound up in Chamonix.
       Meanwhile, in present-day Chamonix a rapist is haunting the huge underground carpark: another troubled soul -- indeed, someone Itchy eventually feels linked to. But the mystery in Cham is less to do with the hunt for the rapist (though that plays a continuing role in the story) than Itchy's efforts at self-discovery and coming to terms with ... well, whatever happened. Most of his efforts involve the numbing effects of alcohol, the exhilaration of skiing, and the desperation of empty sex, all of which Trigell describes at considerable length.
       Trigell is good -- often very good. From the 'ghetto' that is Cham Sud, the ski-bum life, and the wonder of runs through fresh powder to the subcultures of Chamonix life, Trigell has a fine touch and writes some damn fine sentences. Unfortunately, he is not satisfied with merely presenting this aimless, lost lifestyle. He weighs it down with a very heavy backstory -- and then just piles more and more on. The prize-stories, for example, are fine, but feel a bit forced -- as does most of the Byron connection. The rape-spree plays a role, but too often feels like it's been tacked on to add a bit of heft and suspense to the story. And on it goes, and when Itchy meets his 'nightingale' most of it is lost: sappy redemption is the best he can offer to round things off.
       Trigell also likes to lay it on good and thick, from the set pieces of dealing with tourists to some of the bar scenes. And then there are details like all the scars all the characters have (many of them are literally disfigured), which wouldn't be so bad if Trigell didn't constantly remind the reader with portentous drivel such as:

Itchy sees the scars in everyone. Maybe because his own scars run so deep.
       You have to be very good to be able to get away with lines like that, and while Trigell is good he's not that good, and it's this sententiousness (there's a lot of it in the novel) that does ultimately sink the book.
       Cham is the work of a fine writer in search of a story. Taking personal experience (obviously he knows Chamonix and its winter scene very well), historic-literary connections, and sexual politics, he makes something of a mess of the mix. It's not bad, but he's trying too hard; worse, he's trying too obviously: this is a novel that creaks of construction. There are quite a few successful scenes, but the payoffs -- plot-wise -- just aren't there. As he writes about Itchy's feelings when the rapist is caught, it brought: "No great epiphany. No catharsis." Same with the novel as a whole. That could be fine, too, -- novels don't need to be cathartic -- but Trigell tries so hard, and even closes on a note that comes across (unintentionally, surely) as completely mock-cathartic.
       This is a novel dripping with promise, and it's certainly readable, but ultimately it's something of a let-down.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 June 2009

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Cham: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jonathan Trigell was born in 1974.

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© 2009 the complete review

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