The Tick and Tock of the Crocodile Clock by Kenny Boyle (Literary Fiction)

It’s all about words. That theme comes up often in this earnest, confusing, and genuine book about Wendy, a young would-be poet who exists fully in the world of her imagination and is simply lost in the world in which we are all forced to reside.

The book is a gem. Starting with our narrator hiding (terrified) in her gran’s attic with a stolen painting at her side, the story backtracks to an explanation of how she got there, beginning with her short tenure at a Glasgow call center where her daily game is to sneak as many unusual words as possible into her calls. Wendy loves language and weaves wishful fiction into her own backstory (always confessing and eventually letting the truth out). When she quits the call center, she is surprised when several others accompany her in the walk out. One fellow decamper is Catriona, an artist who is wild, wonderful, and has (it becomes clear) been struggling with mental illness for some time.

The story is humorous, surprising, sad, and deeply insightful. I admit to almost closing the book because I got frustrated with the way Wendy could not handle her life the way I thought she should — a good lesson for me about the (should be obvious) fact that my way is not what is best for everyone! I was afraid the book was about self-destructive tendencies which I have little patience with, but it actually was not. I loved her interior monologue that laid bare her development into a whole person making decisions that were right for her.

Lots of great use of language including some truly “new” (to me) words such as curglaffic; ultracrepudarian; lexiphanicism. Seriously, they don’t even begin to sound familiar to me, never mind managing to use them in a call center dialog sentence!

Not surprisingly, there are some great quotes. Here are a few:
“Honestly, I don’t think call centres have the strength of character to be hell. In call centres even bright things or bright people get washed out and individuality is smothered by customer service.”

“Thank you for calling Chay Turley Telephone Banking. How may I dissuade you from truculence?”

“They’re mostly useless in conversation, because people look at you like you’ve just flown in from some fantasy land if you say them. Having to explain the meaning of a word every time you use it goes against the whole point of having words in the first place. I like them anyway; their uselessness adds to their mystique.”

“Her mind is ponderous, like an iguana. When you say something to her it takes a good two seconds to process it — two whole seconds of silent glaring as the words take root. When someone like that meets someone like me it doesn’t ever turn out well. I can’t bear those two seconds of silence, so I have to fill the gap. A lot of the time I fill it with incriminating evidence to my detriment.”

“She’s beginning to pick up speed, like a juggernaut of discipline ready to smash through me with sheer momentum.”

“There’s no amount of shyness that will diminish the West of Scotland impulse to respond to compliments with aggression — it would be weird not to.”

“I wish I weren’t so afraid of words in the real world, I wish they didn’t turn into glue in my mouth so often. Life is an unlimited cascade of parallel possibilities and every single word alters the path. That’s petrifying; it’s fossilising. How can people handle that responsibility?”

“There’s a miniature sun made of gratitude right in the centre of my rib cage and its beams are tearing out of me, but, because we’re in the real world where words can’t be retrieved once they leave your mouth, I don’t know how to tell her how much it means to me.”

“…but even when his expression was flat, the lines of it were an origami template for a smile.”

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