Steven Sherrill, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2004), 312pp
In The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, Steven Sherrill has created an intriguing, if uneven, character study. Sherrill's aim is to use the Minotaur - known as 'M' - as a vehicle for a study of humanity; his logic, as outlined on page 310, being that mankind creates monsters out of its own psychological needs. The problems, and the central conflict of the story, "arise when the monster is humanized." If there is anything remarkable about this novel, it is that you truly forget, at times, that 'M' is actually a minotaur. The absurdity of the title is soon lost; as one review that I read put it, it is a surreal piece of realism. Sherrill's 'M' is indeed more man than bull; his conflicted physical nature serving as a nice manifestation of his feelings of isolation and social anxiety. The supporting characters are also all believably human - conflicted, irrational and yet hopeful. One certainly empathises with all of the emotions described throughout the novel, many of which may strike very close to home.
However, despite my respect for the novel and the emotions it evokes, I failed to truly bond with it. Despite being essentially a thought experiment on the nature of humanity, Sherrill does not seem to have any identifiable themes on the subject running consistently throughout the novel. He does not seem to want to provide any sort of lesson or moral for the reader, or really provide an opinion on any of the human emotions he describes. Rather, he just presents them to the reader largely without comment. This is not, to my mind, helped by the occasional over-elaboration when describing the minutiae of M's everyday life, which is almost uniformly dull. It is only the presence of a minotaur which stops this book being a very ordinary 'A day in the life of...' story. I liked the realistic characters and the strong emotions evoked by their experiences, but their character arcs are rather uneventful and I had lost interest in them within minutes of closing the book.