Review: Ruby and the Stone Age Diet, Martin Millar

 

The beginning: An unnamed narrator and his flatmate Ruby come home one day to find that a girl has died outside of their squat.

“What it needs now,” says Ruby, “is for the radio to start playing ‘You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine.'”

 

“Yes,” I agree. “If that was to happen it would be immensely poignant.”

 

But when I switch on the radio the only station we can find is broadcasting a report from the Tokyo stock market instead, and no matter how we try we cannot work this up into any really effective kind of imagery.

 

I try humming it, but it’s not the same.

That is a very Martin-Millar-y passage, which is why I have quoted it. Ruby and the Stone Age Diet (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) continues to ennumerate the many sadnesses and disappointments of the narrator and his best friend Ruby; as well as, rather occasionally, their triumphs.

The end (no spoilers this time): About the same really. Not much change.

The whole: I will tell you the three things I admire about Martin Millar. First, I love his characters’ ability to admit weakness. A Martin Millar character tends to be very, very open about his/her insecurities even when self-deluded in many other ways. This is a trait that I greatly admire and do not naturally possess.

Second (as pertains to the passage above), I love the matter-of-fact way he depicts the internal narratives that sustain and diminish his characters. In The Good Fairies of New York, Kerry struggles with the certainty that nobody will love her because she has a colostomy bag, and Magenta is convinced that she is the ancient Greek general Xenophon. Although other characters have remarks to make about both of these narratives and their relationship to reality, Millar seems to regard them both as about equally likely; which is to say, their likeliness or otherwise does not appear to be of particular concern to him.

The unknown narrator of Ruby is permanently depressed at having been dumped by his lover Cis, and he constantly frets about how he can win her back. He also reads from Ruby’s book of myths and legends and hallucinates? imagines? dreams? wishes? that he is visited by the gods he reads about in the book. Though it is clear that none of this is real in the traditional sense (Ruby, if not the narrator, knows that Cis is never coming back and the gods aren’t really visiting), it is taken seriously by the narrator and seriously by the author. (Where seriously does not preclude humor, as Millar always seems to be poking mild, lugubrious fun at everyone, always.)

Third, and the reason Ruby and the Stone Age Diet will not be among my favorite Millar books, I love the simplicity and clarity of the stakes in a Martin Millar book. The Good Fairies of New York is about whether Kerry or her worthless ex-lover Cal will win the Arts Association Prize. Lonely Werewolf Girl is about the success or otherwise of one musical gig. At his best, Martin Millar produces a load of characters and storylines in varying degrees of insanity, permits everything to go to spectacularly to hell for all of them, and then brings them all together in a glorious extended cymbal-crash of a finale.

Ruby and the Stone Age Diet lacked the stakes. The narrator is fixated on winning Cis back but is too unfocused to make an execute any sort of plan, however insane, about how to do this. As the book begins, so it ends, almost exactly the same. Only sadder (I think) even if slightly more together financially. The narrator meanders about getting jobs and losing them, eating food or going hungry, getting or not getting his unemployment benefit, and after a while the book is over. No event on which everything hinges.

If you are going to read Martin Millar, and you should because he’s a delight, I’d go with Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me or else with The Good Fairies of New York. Those are a better showcase of his particular brand of crazy.

Cover report: American cover wins. The British cover makes everything look much more cartoony than the book merits, in my opinion. I like the way the American cover combines a very bright color for the bowl of rocks with a very dreary color for the background.

  • Adding Good Fairies of New York to my TBR list.

    • Gin Jenny

      Do! It’s very deeply weird but I like it a lot.

  • I’m with Alice on that one, I’ll add Good Fairies as the themes sound intriguing, but will likely skip this one. Though quotation was good in a strange almost eerie way.

    • Gin Jenny

      Well, the quotation is a fair representation of what Martin Millar’s writing is like. So it bodes well, I think, for you enjoying Good Fairies. 🙂

  • Well, I guess I make three; adding the Good Fairies to my list.

    • Gin Jenny

      yay! Enjoy it!

  • Looks like I need to add one of his books to my TBR!

    • Gin Jenny

      Do! I recommend Lonely Werewolf Girl or The Good Fairies of New York. Or, oh, Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me is also extremely charming.

  • I absolutely love Millar…didn’t even know about this book! Sorry to hear that it didn’t live up to his other books 🙁 I’ll likely try it out anyway though, lol.

    • Gin Jenny

      Do! It’s entertaining and I enjoyed it, but just not as much as the others I’ve loved by him.

  • What do you think of the Good Fairies book as a club reading choice? I always want to suggest something that shakes up my mostly-chicklit-Kristin-Hannah-loving clubbers but also give them something fun and new (as opposed to dark and dense.)
    I have not heard of this author but I like ‘crazy’.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oooo. Tough call. What else have y’all read in the past? I don’t know how much discussion Good Fairies would generate — I wouldn’t recommend it for my book club because I’d be afraid people wouldn’t know what to talk about with it. It is — very far from chicklit, hahaha.

  • aartichapati

    I have NEVER heard of this author before which makes me feel like I am lacking.

    What a colorful cover!

    • Gin Jenny

      I know, isn’t it cool? I’m surprised I haven’t raved about Martin Millar to you before, because I love him a lot. Try Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me. It’s very sweet and weird.

  • Well clearly I need to try some Martin Miller! Never even really heard of him, but his books sound quirky and I like quirky.

    • Gin Jenny

      They are definitely quirky, hahaha. I love him but he’s hard to recommend to people because I’m never sure who will and will not enjoy his brand of quirk.

  • Good Fairies was the cult pick at the bookstore I used to work at. It got hand-sold to customers so much that the publisher called to ask what on earth was going on. And yet I STILL have not read it! I’d wondered about Millar’s other stuff but always intended to read Good Fairies first. I’ll stick with that 🙂

    • Gin Jenny

      Sounds like a plan. It’s a very weird little book, and I didn’t love it on my first time through. If you happen across Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, that’s another good first Millar novel to try.