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Rough Visit

by George Veck

Rating: *****

Twenty-five-year-old cue hustler, Alfie “Whack a Tenner on” Fenner has exhausted the Gwynedd pool and snooker small-time money matches and tested the patience of a few old faces. It's time to aim big, Cardiff no less. 

Wangling a place on a Sports psychology degree course and with his student loan tucked away, Alfie plans to set the City alight with his cueing prowess and take full advantage of the fame and fortune that will surely follow…

Rough Visit is a sequel to Veck’s earlier novel, One Visit*. It does stand alone but I would urge reading the first and indulging in his other books* to obtain a feel for his writing. 

Alfie Fenner was relatively central to One Visit but not the main character and the decision to base Rough Visit around him is astute. Surprisingly, given the end of One Visit, Frankie, its protagonist, does appear together with several individuals from the previous book.

Veck plunges the reader straight in as Alfie takes the train to Cardiff. All Veck trademarks are immediately present; raw, unfiltered language, wickedly funny observations, lethal levels of substance abuse incoming, and a sense of impending disaster.

However, although large parts of Rough Visit, like all of Veck’s work, are an absolute riot, he focuses on how external and internal influences, none of which are positive, affect Alfie and how he responds.

Chapter by chapter this focus and observational comic energy narrows to produce a searing and pitiful depiction of rock bottom without hope and certainly without help. As the narrative unfolds, Veck subtly works on every facet of Alfie’s character to give the reader a textured, authentic, and heartbreaking portrayal.

Alfie is partly deluded; a legend in his own mind whose daily operating mode is that of a crafty grifter. He has a mild nasty streak borne from frustration and suppressed self-loathing combined with a deep vulnerability and insecurity that he constantly searches for ways to overcome, usually via drugs and alcohol. 

He is not without cue talent or, initially, the will to graft to become a decent player. There are glimmers of intelligence and sharp self-awareness, as his often pathetic inner monologues demonstrate. He reminds the reader of Marlon Brando's infamous, anguished phrase, "I coulda been a contender" from Elia Kazan’s 1954 film, On the Waterfront.

Nonetheless, there are moments when Alfie’s cringe-inducing attempts to ingratiate himself are more reminiscent of Alan Partridge, “left the leather lad at base” when referring to his wallet is a particularly amusing standout in this respect.

Rough Visit is longer than Veck’s prior novels and I wondered if either momentum would lag or the sheer, repetitive awfulness of Alfie’s existence would become tiresome. Neither occurs, Alfie’s spiraling descent detours to unexpected places, and Veck throws him the occasional, credible lifeline.

Veck maintains a frenetic pace, occasionally making it easy to underestimate the clever little nuances and recurring themes he weaves throughout. Alfie’s pink waistcoat is one such achingly poignant touch.

Events darken considerably as he ‘relocates’ to Tonypandy. The hostel is a filthy cesspit of depravity. Although humor still prevails, it’s of the gallows variety, and, as Alfie’s situation deteriorates further, the tempo and tone of the narrative adapt.

The rapid-fire colloquial repartee becomes introspective as Alfie struggles to comprehend or acknowledge his shocking circumstances. The rare moments of awareness are firmly chased away with hard drugs. His time spent with Kolo and Trent takes the reader into squalid yet compelling territory.

Nonetheless, he still manages the odd hustle, his final match in Chapter 26 is brilliantly plotted with a sharp edge of unpredictability. Veck’s prose is often unorthodox but can be excused as the perfect counterpart to the gritty, unvarnished subject matter.  

Rough Visit is a blistering read; unapologetic, entertaining, and immensely thought-provoking. Highly recommended.  

Click here for my review of One Visit.                                           

Click here for my review of Spurious Scrapper.

Click here for my review of Monotone Masquerade.                

Click here for my review of Ogwen Blues.

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