Ben Myers ‘Richard: A Novel’ – BOOK REVIEW

It took a while, but at the very start of the year, I finally got around to reading Ben Myers’ somewhat controversial novel ‘Richard: A Novel’ for myself. It took a while longer still, but I have now finally gotten round to sharing my opinion on it. I decided that, with it being a novel that holds such a reputation within a fan base that I myself am a part of, the best way to tackle it would be to disregard all opinions and reviews I had previously read on the piece and approach it with a neutral palette.

The piece is split into two narratives – one depicting the known biographical storyline of Edwards, and the other a fictional account of what might have occurred over the days following his disappearance. The former is written in the second person and the latter in first, highlighting the apparent conflict between the two personas present: Richard Edwards and Richey Manic. This method of structuring gives the novel a very schizophrenic feel, which is further amplified when the personas clash full on. An example of this occurs in chapter two (Classified Machine)  which shows the speaker wrestling with the internal voice that tortures him with accusations of being ‘selfish’ and a ‘self-obsessed narcissist whinging weak-willed cock-sucker imbecile’. Myers really didn’t hold back on the themes and lexical choices, but since whatever he wrote and no matter how sensitively he could have put it, he was always going to end up offending or displeasing someone, so hats off to him for gritting his teeth and getting on with it.

Fact and fiction entwine nicely throughout the novel, but the story-telling comes across as a little dry in places. The fictional account blends together the fragments of known information and alleged sightings with the author’s own imagination to piece together a possible scenario. What Myers came up with could be seen as being dull and tedious, or even somewhat farfetched in places. Though to be fair, as pointed out by Rob Jovanovic in his investigative piece ‘A Version of Reason: The Search for Richey Edwards’ in reference to John Darwin the ‘Canoe Man’ (an example of pseudocide gone wrong), ‘life truly is stranger than fiction’. So perhaps it wouldn’t be entirely fair to pick fault with that.

As for the more biographically based account, Myers glazes over the solid facts with fiction in a way that is unavoidable when you weren’t there to witness the events first hand. Unfortunately though, for the most part, it feels as though you are simply re-reading a watered down version of Simon Price’s ‘Everything (A Book about Manic Street Preachers)’. Clearly though, when it comes to working with the details of a life as well-documented and thoroughly dissected as Edwards’, it is difficult to retell the story without repeating some of the words of those before you, especially since Myers is most likely to have read these works when conducting his research for the novel.

Myers strips the man of the iconography and attempts to explore him as human being. In some places, it gets a little too human. The description of the ‘pathetically runny shit’ that ‘splatters off the white porcelain bowl’ in chapter two (Classified Machine) is uncomfortably grim, but gets the job done. It’s safe to say that Myers did a good job of making sure the glamour was well and truly stripped.  It is undoubtedly uncomfortable to read, but that can only be expected when the writer’s aim is to transport you inside the walls of a seemingly unhinged mind. Whether or not it is done tastefully or entertainingly is down to the individual to decide, but this reader thought that it could have been tackled without patronising Edwards as intensely as it does, especially when the author did not know him personally.

It could be argued that in attempting to uncover the man behind the myth, Myers has created a new one by turning him into a fictional character. That being said, one must keep in mind that that’s exactly what it is, a fictional account with fictional characters based on real people, so try not to get too offended.

(Review based on the revised and corrected edition published in 2011 by Picador)