After having read and LOVED both Genus and Boy A by Jonathan Trigell, I felt I needed to complete the trio by reading his second novel Cham. I was really nervous of reading Cham, because I had loved both the others and didn't want to feel disappointment, and also because it has had some very critical reviews on Amazon.
At first hand Cham is a novel about Itchy, who works seasonally at French ski resort Chamonix, the location where Jonathan Trigell himself happens to live. In the holiday town, which has a certain cache of cool, tourists come and go, whilst those who work the season stay.
But in this town, a place of thrills and enjoyment, a rapist stalks the international revellers, who is he, and who should be scared?
It would be a mistake to think that this novel is either about Chamonix, or skiing, though both appear in part as background, so if you go to Chamonix and love it or if you're going to Chamonix and are looking for a touristy book, this is not that book. With that, I'm not saying that you shouldn't read Cham, you should, you should just adjust your expectations of it.
This novel is about Itchy and the psychology of Itchy, who himself is running scared from his past. A fan of Byron and Shelley who popularised Chamonix in their era, Itchy is an interesting study. He comes across as a disgusting person, an advantage taking egotist and this opinion of him increases in the reader the more you learn. The lifestyle he lives at Chamonix is very much like that of 'a lad in university', all drunkenness, and pleasure and shagging about.
If this was the sum of the novels parts it might be a fair assessment to call it shallow, but it's not. Via Itchy, Trigell seeks to examine the treatment of women, particularly young women in today's society.
He shows with skill and subtlety how though we live in a post-feminist era, the lives of and in some ways the behaviour of young women is not really as empowered as it appears and has instead morphed into a new kind of patriarchy, with new kinds of abuses, often abuses that are mislabelled as womens liberation or sexual freedom.
If Boy A is a novel about how convicted criminals are treated after time served and Genus is a novel about the poor and the disenfranchised, Cham is a novel about the peculiar new world women find themselves in. How they are treated, how they treat each other and more importantly how they treat themselves.
I think that Cham is a rather feminist novel, an unusual thing for a man to achieve. In the use of the mirroring with the story of Byron and Shelley, Trigell shows that though their patriarchs mistreated them, it was the women in their lives who were stronger, who endured.
Ultimately Cham is a deep novel which cunningly masquerades on the surface as a shallow one. 9/10