It’s that time of year again, the Man Booker Longlist has been released and I do try to keep.up to date with them – as I do with the Costa and Women’s Prize lists. Sometimes they can be a bit hit-and-miss, sometimes a little pretentious, but generally a good addition to my TBR list and often introduce me to someone new.
Which they did with Bauer. I was vaguely aware of her as a writer and think I may have picked up Blacklands at some point but not actually read it. So this is my first experience of her as a writer.
And it was a good.
Snap, despite a very uninspiring cover, was a good book!
The novel opens in 1998 – just long enough ago to accept the semce of mobile phone – with the eleven year old Jack Bright, son of Eileen Bright, in a broken down car with his two younger sisters, alone because his mother has walked to the emergency phone by the side of the motorway to call for help. The children’s wait in the “vicious” August sun that “was so hot in the car that the seats smelled as though they were melting” and their trek along the motorway hard shoulder to find their mother is well written. Clear and pressing.
It is, however, a trek which is unsuccessful: they do not find their mother and nor does she return. Until her corpse is discovered a week or so later.
Three years later, Jack is still in charge and looking after his sisters. They had never returned to school after his mother’s death so when his father had abandoned them as well, no one had noticed. Joy has become a recluse, filling the house with newspapers and all but disappearing from the pages of the book; Merry has become a somewhat precocious five-year old demanding books on vampires. Bauer touches on themes of grief, of the burden of responsibility thrust on a too-young set of shoulders, of people’s apathy and lack of engagement in other people’s lives… But it is just a touch on these themes.
At this point, a second plotline is introduced: Catherine While, heavily pregnant wife of Adam While, is woken in the night by an intruder. Alone in the house, she calls out and threatens the police and appears to frighten the intruder away. But beside her bed when she returns is a titanium-bladed and abalone-handled knife with a note reading “I could have killed you”.
The two plots coincide via DCI Marvel, recently transferred to Tiverton station following something of a disgrace in London.
The novel cracks along at a terrific pace – especially once the plotlines converge – and was a genuine page turner. With an unexpected but welcome degree of humour. It did prompt an occasional chuckle as I read it! Merry’s tortoise making a “slow run for it” from a fire. DS Renolds’ repeated and improving attempts to arrest the so-called Goldilocks burglar.
It was very enjoyable to read and would have made – it might make – an excellent piece of television. Sunday evening. Feature length. Maybe spread over two episodes. But there was nothing new or challenging in it.
What it was not, in my mind, was literary. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that fully, nor where the distinction is between literary fiction and genre fiction. Nor whether such a distinction has any value beyond snobbery – which perhaps reveals my kinship with DS Renolds! But it was a great enjoyable read – and I’ll look out for more by Bauer – but it lacked something for me.
And I think it comes down to the characters.
The characters lacked depth, especially the police: Renolds, the slightly by-the-books, overly-keen-to-impress Sergeant; Marvel, the scruffy overweight foil to Renolds, resentful of the transfer to a “hick” station, yet also keenly intelligent and insightful; Rice the bubbly female counterpart who served both to flirt and mother different characters. They were a very pleasant and agreeable set of characters growing into the usual grudging respect and effective team, but they were a little too two-dimensional, almost straight from the Meyers and Briggs Personality Types: Renolds the ISTJ, Marvel the INTJ, Rice the ESFP. Add to that the less convincing secondary characters including a dubious fence and an unlikely knife maker and the cast just doesn’t have a huge degree of depth.
So, yeah… I’m feeling that this review is far too negative: I did really love it as a read! I just don’t see it as a Man Booker book.
Plot / Pace: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Publisher: Bantam Press
Date: 17th May 2018