Review – The Man in the Seventh Row by Brian Pendreigh

Okay, picture yourself walking into a room.

Now how did you see it?  Through your natural eyeline?  Or do you see the empty room, the door opening slowly into it, fingers curled around handle, then a body from an oblique angle.  Pull back.  Full reveal.  You are standing looking out at the audience.

If the second option is what you saw then The Man in the Seventh Row is the book for you.

Roy Batty is a movie star, he plays the hero and the romantic lead, rewriting the plots as he goes along.  Except he isn’t.  He’s actually a man undergoing a prolonged breakdown.  At least we assume he is.  He can’t really be all of those men on screen, but if he isn’t how does his lover Anna see him there too?  Is it a folie à deux?  Or is she another symptom of his delusions?

It’s a classic device, the split persona, but Pendreigh gives it a fresh spin here, leavening the serious subject matter with neat reimaginings of film classics.  In his version of The Graduate Ben knows his way around a woman long before Mrs Robinson gets her hands on him and does what any red blooded male would do in that situation, suggest a threesome to Elaine.  Sam Peckinpah’s Brief Encounter was my personal favourite, with Pendreigh taking it where we all know it should have gone, down and dirty on the floor of that borrowed flat.

The book is littered with in-jokes and sly winks to the reader, not least for Bladerunner fans, who will feel unease about Roy Batty long before the nifty reveal in Mann’s Chinese Theatre.  I’m sure there are lots of references I missed but that’s part of the fun, spotting the allusions.  Is Anna’s pretentious ex-husband an hommage to Annie Hall’s loudmouth in the cinema queue?  I’d love to think so.

The Man in the Seventh Row is a fantastical book in many ways but Pendreigh drags you along so confidently that you accept the strangeness and the pervasive ambiguity.  His writing is personal without being sentimental, and in spite of the happy ending he defies the conventions of the cinema he clearly loves by denying the reader a explanation for what Roy has gone through.  It is a brave stand to make in a culture obsessed with closure and really quite admirable.

Published by Blasted Heath and available now

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