Combat Camera Paperback – Apr 21 2011
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Quill & Quire
Mentally and physically wounded after years of covering wars, photographer Lucas Zane, the main character in A.J. Somerset’s debut novel (winner of the 2010 Metcalf-Rooke Award for an unpublished manuscript), finds himself down and out in Toronto. He lands a job taking photos for a pornographer, a gig that leads him to witness horrors of another kind. While in the studio, he meets Melissa, a young stripper whose life is careening off track. Zane needs a subject and Melissa needs a father figure, and the two form an odd partnership that takes them to Vancouver.
Somerset, who has worked as a soldier, journalist, and freelance photographer, seems well versed in his subject matter. The book is filled with vivid descriptions of light and even provides a good practical lesson on developing a roll of film in a bathtub, which is sure to thrill anyone with a penchant for the pre-digital days.
A book about a wounded alcoholic and a battered porn star might sound like a grim read, and in some ways that is just what Combat Camera is. Full of violence, both domestic and international, the story is gritty and raw. But Somerset draws connections between disparate places to uncover universal truths about our reactions to violence; in one instance, a smashed mirror in a rundown Toronto apartment seamlessly segues into a broken window in Sarajevo. The writing, however, is occasionally overdone. For example, when relations with his agent go awry, Zane repeatedly thinks to himself that the conversation is not going according to the script he has in mind: “has no one read his lines?” An author as adept as Somerset at drawing characters can afford to let them speak for themselves.
Ultimately, Zane is a rambling, tragic, and suprisingly funny figure, and his tragic circumstances take on a strange kind of beauty. What this novel successfully shows is the way in which art can exist in the midst of mayhem.
Combat Camera is one of the finest Canadian novels I have ever read (John Metcalfe).
"A confident, gifted writer" (The Toronto Star).See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
I get a sense that the author has a great sense of humour in these moments, in the book's hilarious video trailer and his affable, self-effacing style when he reads his work in public. If anything, I wanted more humour from this book to lighten the mood. It's dark, pessimistic tone is a bit oppressive at times and it relies on some humour, some action and some prurient interest to fuel reader interest. Effectively, yes, but disquietingly so. You feel somehow worse about yourself in the same way the hero does.
Lucas Zane is not an uplifting hero, but his attempts at some kind of redemption, as pathetic as they seem, are ultimately inspiring. A well-written, engaging and thought-provoking novel, Combat Camera makes me look forward to future offerings from this author.
But the accumulation of horror takes its toll and Zane loses everything, including his unerring eye. No longer employable, mentally fragile, he slips closer and closer to dissolution, his dreams invaded by a parade of corpses that stretch from El Salvador to Liberia. He is finally reduced to earning his bread and butter by shooting low-budget porn set-ups...and that's where he meets Melissa, a casualty of a different kind of war. Thrown together, their prickly relationship a high point of the novel, Melissa and Zane drive cross-country, in search of closure...and maybe some kind of new beginning. Happily, Somerset doesn't let them off so easily and the conclusion of COMBAT CAMERA is sobering, thoughtful, but hardly redemptive.
COMBAT CAMERA is a first novel, an assured and confident effort. It is a beguiling, engaging book, a meditation on the effects of trauma on men and women, an acknowledgment of the enormous pain we are capable of absorbing, the courage that is sometimes required to face each dawning day.