In reading and critiquing Best First Novel Award contenders it occurs to me that I am too harsh, too demanding and way too mean to these brave writers. It makes me wonder what would I say about the Draftsman if Unbound puts it forward as a candidate? There is certainly lots to say about this book, starting with its basic premise: it’s about a brilliant but damaged man and is the story of his genius, his healing and a forgotten mystery. Well yes it’s all of that, but it took me ages to come up with this tight little distillation. Unfortunately it makes the book sound quite interesting, which I am not sure that it is.
It’s all about. . .
The Draftsman is about Martin Cox an untrained draftsman of 24. He’s accidentally rich, a heavy smoker, damaged, obsessive, binary. He buys a house in the country as an investment and to get away from his squalid London flat. The country landscape surrounding Shadowhurst Hall confuses and beguiles Martin, who obsesses with black and white contrasts and binary expression, facts, numbers, in a world of shades and shadows. The desolation and the twin lakes on his property exert a peculiar pull that he doesn’t understand, but which attracts him. He doesn’t smoke in his new house. Let’s face it, he’s weird.
The story slowly unfolds in a series of flashbacks which explain how the man came to be so wealthy, why he’s strange and how he might get better if only he would learn to be at least a little bit nice to people. Except that he cannot, at least he cannot until he starts getting interested in his new house and its history. Gradually he moves towards renewal, but not for any particular reason and this is perhaps annoying for readers.
This is the bit that the critic in me hates in the Draftsman. He moves so damn slowly from thing to thing and there are way too many words cluttering up his aimless meanderings. His friends are nondescript and his relations mostly dead. How can you have a central character who is so closed up and strange? Why would a reader want to know more about Martin Cox? Unless you want to categorise him somehow, which seems to be a popular sport these days.
Reading it as a critic this is what I would say. Of course as the author I have some power to fix it, but here’s a thing. Once something is written and finished it is really hard to go back and restructure it, rewrite it so much that it turns into something completely different. The only way I can correct my own omissions and errors, is to revisit Martin Cox and put him into a new and different context. This context will have to be Martin Cox as the intrepid brain, searching for the answers to the mystery that is only uncovered at the end of the Draftsman. Giving his razor wired brain something to unravel will give me some structure within which to elaborate the whos, whys and wherefores of Martin Cox without using imagistic flashbacks. One to think about.