It's not a cheerful opening. Surprisingly, it's mostly internal - how Miles (the protagonist) feels about things and puts things together rather than what actually happens. It's all set-up. It shows us how Mike reached the place he found himself in. The real story doesn't begin until - in the middle of fear and despair - Mike notices something very odd about a box.
It was at this stage that I realised that the length of the paragraphs was driving me quite crazy. Adams doesn't always break his text up in a normal way, especially at first (this might be changed in the printed version - I hope so). It's a very literary thing to do, pushing whole sequences of conversation and events into one page-long paragraph. It makes the reader do a lot more of the work, breaking down the massive upload of text into understandable pieces. I can see why it's there, but I don't enjoy it, especially in the conversation sequences and in the action bits. I like more help in my reading, I guess, so that I can go straight to meaning and enjoy the story. It's like climbing a ladder to see an amazing view: it's worth it, but it's hard work and it feels a bit precarious. The extra work diminishes the tension a bit.
And there is tension. I love the moment when Mike catches the box. It's the moment when the novel shifts and we're no longer in Thugland. In fact, we're in The World House.
Most of the houses that are worlds are written for young adults and children. It's a theme I love. The notion that the inside is bigger and more special or stranger than the outside, or that a door can lead you somewhere strange, or that our reality is too rational and a house can be a world or a world live inside a house. World houses are not safe, the way ordinary houses are. In fact, I was reading Michael Pryor's The House of Many Rooms just the other day.
So what's special about Adams' house (besides the thuggery and the enormous paragraphs - which do normalise further on, thank goodness)? Why should you read it? Firstly, once you sort out the rhythm and make your own decisions about where ideas end and begin, it's a good read.
Secondly, despite the tone of the opening sentence (and chapter) this is not just about men battering men over money owed. It's violent, and the violence is a key part of the scenery. Readers who don't enjoy people hurting might want to think twice. Because people do hurt. Before anything else happens, they get shot at and beaten up and damaged.
Despite the beginning, this book is not so very predictable. It's a boys'-own adventure for adults, governed by the mysterious box. There are shifts in time and sequences of events get added for character after character. Storytelling by addition. 1 + 1=2 then add 1 and subtract 1 and…this adds to the mystery and when the numbers are right, the addition slows down and action takes its place. We have to hang in there and keep reading if we want to know what the answers are going to be. In fact, it reminds me a little of The Fabulous Riverboat in the form of it and in the rather uncheerful view of humankind.
This is not my sort of book (partly because of the bleak view - it fills me with disquiet), but it's clever and original and inventive and a good read for all that. Also, it's a book centred round a strange house, and books that are centred around strange houses always worth a second look.