Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

the dry

This book had won a range of prizes by the time I got to reading it: Australia Indie Book and Indie Debut of the Year 2017; Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year; CWA Gold Dagger. It even became the Radio 2 Book Club Choice. I think I read somewhere that film rights have been optioned.

It was therefore with some high hopes I opened it and the opening Prologue was promising: the town of Kiewarra was suffering from an interminable drought, farms were faltering and crops and livestock failing and

the drought had left the flies spoiled for choice that summer. They sought out unblinking eyes and sticky wounds as the farmers of Kiewarra leveled their rifles at skinny livestock… The finds that day were unusual, though. Smaller and with a smoothness to the flesh. Not that it mattered. They were the same where it counted. The glassy eyes. The wet wounds.

The body in the clearing was the freshest. It took the flies slightly longer to discover the two in the farmhouse, despite the front door swinging open like an invitation. Those that ventured beyond the initial offering in the hallway were rewarded with another, this time in the bedroom. This one was smaller, but less engulfed by competition.

There is a terseness and economy and clear simplicity to the prose here, which runs throughout the novel and its depictions of the ravages caused by the drought is powerful and evocative. The novel is set in an emotional as well as a literal tinderbox.

At its heart, this novel is not one but two tightly woven narratives centered around the friendship between Aaron Falk and Luke Hadley. As children, they had suffered to horror of the death of their friend Ellie Deacon, and subsequent suspicions falling on them; as men, Hadley, his wife and son were discovered dead and shot – apparently by Luke Hadley’s own hand. Aaron Falk – who by this point is a Federal Investigator – is persuaded or coerced into helping to look into their deaths.

The two cases slowly unravel: the present day one, in a fairly traditional police procedural way, albeit Falk’s involvement being informal; the past death, through a series of flashback embedded into the present day case. The use of the flashbacks feels organic and very cinematic: as characters are discussing something, we’ll slip into the past and see the conversations being discussed play out in front of our eyes.

The actual investigation into the Hadley family’s death is, actually, rather pedestrian: a lead is discovered, investigated, resolved and abandoned; another lead emerges – sometimes a little too conveniently – and the process continues. Old enmities are rekindled through the investigation; new friends grow. There is a satisfying but not terribly shocking resolution. One thing I was glad about: whilst the deaths were without question violent, we only got glimpses of that violence. Unlike some other (maybe Nordic) crime writers, Harper did not revel in or dwell in it.

What sets the novel apart from the basic procedural is the intertwining of the two cases, which was meticulously done, although I did feel that Ellie Deacon was sidelined a little, and the depictions of the small town tensions. The incident between Gretchen – another old friend – and Falk in the Centenary Park where the “the self-appointed spokeswoman of the anxious mothers’ group” challenges Falk and the dumping of industrial quantities of shit over Falk’s car – “At least it’s animal. Mostly. I think.” – were particularly well managed and balanced between humour and pathos. Other scenes, particularly Falk’s flirtation with Gretchen, are a little less successful and more self-conscious.

Harper’s writing throughout is terse and it is a novel in which no word feels wasted. There is a journalistic quality to it.

It was a hugely enjoyable book – and certainly an impressive debut novel – but I’m not quite sure that it lives up to all the hype it has garnered. I shall, however, be looking out for Force of Nature, the follow up novel.

Publisher: Little Brown

Date: 12th January 2017

Available: Amazon

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There is something very frustrating about this book. It was so close to being great that the fact that it wasn’t great is so disappointing.

The premise sounded brilliant: members of a religious community go on a retreat to an isolated location; suspicious and sinister villagers mill around; a young boy is being prayed for with desperation. Tensions within the group; tensions without the group. The hint of a less than reliable narrator. The presence of death covering the whole enterprise. It has echoes of M. R. James in the second half – Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad in particular but that was tied to the evocative use of landscape in both. There are moments of pathos and horrors. It touched on ideas of faith, occasionally explicitly and a little heavy-handedly, sometimes more carefully. The descriptions of the horrific excesses of zeal in Hanny’s mother were more chilling than the more vicserally gruesome moments.

And what does it say about today’s society that, when I first read the book and was introduced to Father Bernard who has nicknames for the young boys in the church and a close relationship with them, that I was fully expecting some degree of grooming, exploitation or abuse? I am grateful to say I was wrong: Father Bernard was a warm, humane and kind character who was, probably the most engaging character in the whole novel. The only one in the novel that you might have thought you’d like to have met him in real life.

So, the novel revolves around Hanny, or Andrew, a late teenage boy with learning difficulties and communication problems, and his younger brother who narrates the novel. Their zealous mother has been taking – or dragging – them into the life of the Church and onto their pilgrimages for years, yearning for a miraculous cure for Hanny. As the father of a child with communication issues, I bristled at every mention of the words “cure” or “normal” and was warmed by the narrator’s ability to work around Hanny’s difficulties and care for and communicate with him. To accept him where no one else did. We first see the pilgrimage on what appears to be the last one: led by Father Wilfrid Belderboss, he loses his faith and dies in the months after the trip. As the new priest, Father Bernard, arrives, “Mummer”, Hanny’s mother, desperately clings to the established traditions and routines, insisting that the pilgrimage to the North East be reinstated.

Once established in the house Moorings for the pilgrimage, Hurley ramps up the tensions: strange noises and screams echo over the moors and sea and fields; stuffed animals abound creepily in the house, previously owned by a taxidermist; a gun is discovered and, conveniently, ammunition; macabre and possibly pagan discoveries are found in the woods. Alongside these, we see apples fruiting out of season, blind people seeing again. A triumvirate of locals glower intimidatingly. A pregnant woman arrives in the area, possibly being cared for, possibly imprisoned. It is enough to unnerve without horrifying. The sense of threat permeates the novel.

Until it doesn’t.

Our narrative is not chronological: it is told in flashback and flashbacks occur within the flashbacks all of which slightly irked me and took me out of the novel. The circumstances of Father Wilfrid’s death are revealed through these flashbacks and memories and a hugely conveniently ‘lost’ diary being found – I did roll my eyes as I read about that – and I was just not terribly interested in that. Yes, the ‘lost’ diary was a somewhat trite narrative device and it wasn’t the only one: the conveniently placed and permeable cupboard through the walls of which our narrator – and therefore we – could overhear conversations and confessions in Father Bernard’s room.

So, overall, I didn’t dislike the book and there were moments of great writing… But it felt strongly in need of some stronger editing and control. It was so nearly superb but left me not quite satisfied.

Publisher: John Murray

Date: 7th April 2016

Link: Amazon

 

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Some books you can knock out a review in a moment or two after reading them.

Others take time to digest and consider and reflect on. And this beautiful, heart-aching, visceral, funny, tragic novel is one of the latter. But as yesterday was the International Day Against Homophobia Biphobia Intersexism and Transphobia  – should not every day be against those things? And the use of the suffix “phobia” irks me because this not not about phobia, it’s about bigotry and bullying. But I digress. As yesterday marked the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, it seemed an apt time to bring this review into the light.

Because this novel is an absolute gem!

It is a delight and treasure, all the more wonderful because my hopes for it were not massive: I’d only read The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas by Boyne before and had not found it as powerful or compelling as its content matter should have been. The Heart’s Invisible Furies, however, is a tour de force.

We have here an episodic and picaresque Bildungsroman following the life of Cyril Avery – adopted by the Averys and never a real Avery.  We see Cyril every seven years of his life, starting as he is growing inside the womb of Catherine Goggin and ending as a seventy year old man. Over these visits to him, we glimpse the the horrors of the Irish attitude to homosexuality and very viscerally the violence that homophobic attitudes generate – and other forms of bigotry as Catherine Goggin’s denouncement and expulsion from her rural home in Goleen in Cork in 1945 for extra-marital sex is as bigoted as the homophobia we see. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Catherine Goggin: her flightly, wilful, self-deceptive, stubborn self-recreation in Dublin was a tour-de-force and, whilst she recurred and was significant throughout the seventy years, I found hat I missed having her as my point-of-view character.

Nor does Boyne shy away from the privations forced on the gay community in Ireland and the lengths that they were forced to go to in order to meet their needs, or in order to hide or “cure” them. The tawdriness of anonymous meetings in the parks and toilets and alleys is not shied away from and Boyne does not glamorise it in any way. At no point in his time in Ireland do we see any stable, happy or open homosexual relationship: the atmosphere – which strikes the reader as wholly authentic and toxic – forces the encounters to be unsatisfying and purely physical. There is a clear political message being driven home here and a religious one.

Boyne also explores the fallibility of memory and recollections: as characters meet and leave and meet again, we see that memories differ. Who showed whom their penis first? When does a lie become so powerful it becomes a truth and when is the truth insurmountably present. Whereas Catherine could reinvent herself successfully, Cyril’s attempts to fit into a society that demonised his sexuality and his attempts even to marry and deny his sexuality fail time and time again in the face of the single inalienable fact that Cyril is gay. And reality and fiction bleed together as we get cameos of Brendan Behan conversing somewhat incongruously with the fourteen year old Cyril and best friend Julian and somewhat lecherously the girls they had gone there with; a Charles Haughey haunts the tearooms of Dáil Éireann, run by Catherine Goggin.

Despite this, however, there are moments of sheer joyful humour in Boyne’s writing – a humour which never jeopardises the pathos of the situation or the humanity of Cyril’s portrayal – in fact highlighting them both. His visit to a doctor who tries to cure his homosexuality by stabbing his testicles every time he mentions a male name; the priest’s (coincidental) death when he hears Cyril’s confession convincing Cyril that his sexuality had killed him; the introduction and teasing of Cyril Two. Very few modern novelists can weave together such pathos and such humour so skilfully.

The novel moves with an epic pace as Cyril flees Dublin and Julian Woodbead, the subject of his obsessions since he was seven, and his failed attempt to marry Julian’s sister. He re-emerges in Amsterdam and later in New York, apparently happily in a relationship with Bastiaan, a doctor. His escape from the tyranny of the Catholic Church’s hold is a release but life remains unkind: his sexuality remains the subject of bigotry and violence; he becomes embroiled in a shady underground world of prostitution and violence. the novel encompasses vast societal changes as prejudices lessen, the grip of the Church relaxes, homosexuality is legalised, HIV re-ignites old suspicions, gay marriage is legalised. And at no point in these seismic events do we lose Cyril’s voice or sight of the human and emotional responses to world events.

The novel abounds in coincidences and unexpected returns and a happy ending which, in other hands, would have felt forced and artificial and mawkish. Here, Cyril’s desperate attempts to hang on to life and love and himself were so awful and desperate that I absolutely accepted the end of the novel without a hint of my more accustomed snideness and cynicism.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is epic in scope, human in sensibility; it is a joy to read; it prompts tears and laughter and love; it inspires hope in the power of love.

It is a delight: intricately plotted and structured and full of warm and convincing characters.

Publisher: Black Swan

Date: 14 December 2017

Available: Amazon

I do love historical fiction and this is one of the best I’ve read for a while! Intricately plotted, rigourously researched and with vivid and well-drawn characters. And none of those elements displaced by any other. And with just a touch of magical realism thrown in. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Hilary Mantel – but that’s a huge height to reach!

The novel really has only two characters: Mr Jonah Hancock, the workaday, somewhat pedestrian and timid, merchant; and Angelica Neal, a self-absorbed and superficial courtesan. Neither character is particularly likeable in their own right and yet, somehow, Gowar made me care for them. The other secondary characters were distinctly secondary but still fleshed out: Sukie, Jonah Hancock’s niece, was probably the closest to a likeable character and her growth from little more than a housekeeper to de facto mistress of the house was a pleasure; Miss Frost, living with Angelica Neal as something between a friend, a housekeeper, a seamstress and a bawd; and Mrs Chappell, the grotesquely painted suppurating bawd, both morally and physically corrupt.

The mermaid of the title – in Part One at least – lamds in Mr Hancock’s hands unexpectedly and is a twisted and hideous goblin-like beast.

It is the size of an infant and, like an infant, it’s ribcage is delicate and pathetic beneath its parchment skin…. [But] no infant has such fearful claws, and no infant such a snarl, with such sharp fangs in it. And no infant’s torso ends in the tail of a fish.

It is something which might be seen in a museum of antique oddities – which is perhaps unsurprising as Gowar had a background in Archeology and Anthropology and History. It’s a physical and tangible thing – unlike the more alien creature discovered in Part 3.

Through various machinations, Mr Hancock allows Mrs Chappell to display the mermaid and Angelica Neal is tasked with keeping him happy.

The tenderest parts of the novel occur when Mr Hancock wins an audience with Mrs Neal and their conversation becomes humane and real and genuine – much to their own surprise.

The book is not without its visceral moments and it’s horrors, mainly in Part 3. Personally, I wonder whether Parts 1 and 2 could not have been trimmed down a little and perhaps Part 3 extended. My biggest gripe with the novel was the final conclusion: it seemed a little too neat and unnecessarily positive.

Publisher: Harville Secker

Date: 25th January 2018

Available: Amazon

This is one of the most unusual and beautiful books I’ve read for a while.

Hard to define. Difficult to keep track of people. But beautiful and lyrical. Radio 4 do a slot of “slow radio” sometimes and this book reminds me of that. And of my childhood. And of a familiarity with the country and countryside which I fear I’ve lost. Or am losing.

Perhaps it is easier to explain what this book is not. Despite beginning with a thirteen year old girl’s disappearance, the book is not a thriller or a police procedural or a detective novel. The girl – Rebecca or Becky or Bex – is recalled and mentioned throughout the thirteen years of the novel’s scope but never drives the novel.

There is no driving narrative or central character. Except perhaps the village itself.

There are no paragraphs. It is sectioned up and I struggle not to refer to those sections as stanzas.

We skim over the lives of the variety of characters at a distance and we may briefly linger here to overhear a conversation or there to watch a badger sett. But we stay nowhere terribly long. The narrative style is often that of a report rather than a story.

And yet McGregor intertwines and weaves and flows these moments together over thirteen years and I became strangely committed to the characters and to the community. Rohan, James, Lynsey and Sophie; Richard and Cathy; the Jackson boys; Cooper, Su and the twins; even Jones and his sister.

The novel, because of its taut focus on the village reveals the musicality and rhythm of the village – each chapter opens with New Year fireworks, the well-dressing, Mischief Night and the pantomime – and of the natural world of the births and deaths of fixed and badgers and the migration of birds. And those rhythms wove together beautifully as characters worked, lived in, ignored and learned about nature.

McGregor echoes and repeats phrases throughout – with and without variation – and has created an absolute gem of a novel. Maybe not a novel. A prose poem, a prose paean to the community he created.

Broken-Harbour Tana French

Recipe for a Tana French Dublin Murder Squad novel:

Take an atmospheric and intense setting, such as the last remnant of an ancient forest, a secluded mansion or a half completed housing project abutting the sea; insert a handful of characters with intense and golden relationships; raise the pressure and temperature; remove from the oven when those relationships start to rip slowly and tortuously apart; dust with a subtle hint of the supernatural.

This is the fourth of Tana French’s explorations of the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, after In The Woods, The Likeness and Faithful Place. I first read The Secret Place and loved it enough to gorge on the rest of the series which I continued to love – although Faithful Place has been a struggle to get into. This entry, however, I think is the strongest in the series so far.

The setting, the characters, the language here are all pitch-perfect: heightened but utterly convincing; rooted in the economic reality of the recession in Ireland but with a poetic lyricism. The Spain family is found slaughtered in their safe and middle class home in a housing project which was abandoned as the investments ran out surrounded by shells of houses and ghosts of what could have been: their children had been smothered; the father, Pat, knifed to death; the mother, Jenny, barely alive. An experienced detective, Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy – being offered a chance to reclaim past glory following some vaguely hinted at disaster – is paired with a rookie detective to investigate. As usual with French, the relationship between the detectives and the budding trust and respect between Kennedy and Richie Curran – a mentor-mentee relationship growing into a putative partnership – is a beautiful and tender as the victims’ relationships. Kennedy is not immediately likeable saying such things as

“in this job everything matters, down to the way you open your car door. Long before I say Word One to a witness, or a suspect, he needs to know that Mick Kennedy is in the house and that I’ve got this case by the balls. Some of it is luck—I’ve got height, I’ve got a full head of hair and it’s still ninety-nine percent dark brown, I’ve got decent looks if I say so myself, and all those things help—but I’ve put practice and treadmill time into the rest. I kept up my speed till the last second, braked hard, swung myself and my briefcase out of the car in one smooth move and headed for the house at a swift, efficient pace. Richie would learn to keep up.

But a softer side to him emerges, whether it be consoling Curran in the autopsy or keeping his sister, Dina, whose mental state is simultaneously vulnerable and perceptive, safe or in his own deeply tragic personal history. He is a man who presents a mask to the world and may not know himself where the real face lies beneath it.

In terms of the plot, French keeps up a cracking pace: the advantage of the detective fiction form, perhaps. Pat, the dead father, is initially suspected; a stalker is discovered quickly but the case keeps deepening.

French’s prose, in the lips of different protagonists in each novel, is, as always, beautiful, poised between the lyrical and the real. As he enters the house, Kennedy tells us

that was when I felt it: that needle-fine vibration, starting in my temples and moving down the bones into my eardrums. Some detectives feel it in the backs of their necks, some get it in the hair on their arms—I know one poor sap who gets it in the bladder, which can be inconvenient—but all the good ones feel it somewhere. It gets me in the skull bones. Call it what you want—social deviance, psychological disturbance, the animal within, evil if you believe in that: it’s the thing we spend our lives chasing. All the training in the world won’t give you that warning when it comes close.

And when he sees the harbour, where his own personal tragedy is centred, we are told of the

rounded curve of the bay, neat as the C of your hand; the low hills cupping it at each end; the soft gray sand, the marram grass bending away from the clean wind, the little birds scattered along the waterline. And the sea, high today, raising itself up at me green and muscled. The weight of what was in the kitchen with us tilted the world, sent the water rocking upwards like it was going to come crashing through all that bright glass.

And, finally, when looking into the Spains’ attic, an attic guarded with a thick mesh and holding a vicious bear trap, Kennedy says that

For an instant I thought I saw something move—a shifting and coalescing of the black, a deliberate muscled ripple—but when I blinked, there was only darkness and the flood of cold air.

As well as location and atmosphere, which she manages and manipulates with an exquisite Gothic sensibility, French is very good at insanity here. No spoilers, but the Spains, behind their own affluent and successful mask – which marks them out as snobs to their few neighbours – both disappear into different rabbit holes. And they are both wholly credibly described and experienced by the reader.

This is one of the best detective novels I have ever read. Full stop. It is literary and eloquent but never loses its way as a piece of detective fiction. And its conclusion and final revelation – and the ethical dilemmas explored – are enough to warrant tears. Hauntingly, chillingly beautiful.

origin

Oh dear. Oh, poor Dan Brown. Poor, incredibly rich and famous Dan Brown.

It seems that you have become a parody of yourself. But, as an aspiring writer, I thank you. I can look at my writing and yours and think…. “If Dan Brown can get that published, I must have a decent chance!”

Let’s be frank and open upfront: I read and enjoyed this as a half-term read. In the same way that I might enjoy a MacDonalds. Neither are good for me but they give a childish comfort. And I have read all of Dan Brown’s previous work: his earlier novels were fresher and more lively than this one perhaps. I wonder whether Brown’s success has gone to his head, or whether he is struggling to live up to the pressure created by The Da Vinci Code. Either way, his more recent books have become downright silly in places.

The Brown formula is in full force once again: exotic and foreign location, check; a murder of a friend, check; a beautiful woman accompanying Robert Langdon through various locations, check; a suspiciously helpful ally, check; twist at the end which anyone with half a brain cell would have anticipated 25 pages in, check; references to art, check; self-aggrandisement of Langdon, check; a series of fatuous ‘clues’, check.

The basic scenario is that Langdon’s erstwhile pupil and friend, Edmund Kirsch, has uncovered a scientific breakthrough which will undermine all religions and just as he is about to reveal it in the Guggenheim Museum, he is assassinated. Langdon helps the authorities by fleeing with Ambra Vidal, the museum’s director and fiancée to the Prince of Spain. Dodgy churches, suspicious machinations, looming royal security.

And – oh god! – the dialogue. It is just awfully written! Allow me to drop in a small sample here:langdon

Let it go.

Oh God.

At least there is one moment of genius here: Dan Brown must have been told that dialogue is not his main strength, that his characters sound robotic and unconvincing, so in this novel one of the main ‘characters’ is Winston, an Artificial Intelligence who guides and assists Langdon and who is robotic and… well… unconvincing. Have you seen 2001, A Space Odyssey, or The Terminator or I, Robot? Trust me, so has Dan Brown. Not convinced he’s read Asimov et al, but he has seen those films.

And what is it with his obsession with numbers? Never has my understanding or appreciation of a book been assisted by knowing exactly which model of gun, car or plane I’m looking at, nor it’s engine horsepower statistics, nor the precise measurements of a room. Seriously, “vast”, “cavernous”, “cosy” or “cramped” would do! There are almost more numbers in this books than words. Writers are told repeatedly, “Show don’t tell.” Brown never shows and tells oh so badly! Delay information to create suspense, that’s another piece of advice I give students… and Brown does that, but does it so clumsily it’s almost painful to read!

And the biggest problem with the novel? The eventual “reveal” of the discovery which will destroy all religion and which we, as readers, are meant to believe would prompt religious leaders to arrange the assassination is just so weak!

The plus points: mindlessly entertaining if you overlook the writing; better than Inferno, the fallout of which is not even mentioned even though Langdon’s other previous adventures are referenced.

And the true tragedy? Tom Hanks may be contractually bound to present this on screen.

There’s nothing new or original in this novel. Touches of Doctor Who, Perhaps. Touches of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime. Touches, indeed, of Eleanor Oliphant Is Perfectly Fine.

An outsider struggles to fit into humam society and ultimately fights to understand what it is to be human. Wrap that up with some science fiction and a very much secondary plot and you get The Humans. 

Here, our outsider is an alien. A Vonnadorian. A Vonnadorian sent to Earth to prevent Professor Andrew Martin from disseminating a solution to the Reimann Hypothesis. I’m no mathematician but this seems to be a real world hypothesis broadly connected to the patterns behind the distribution of prime numbers. Apparently, prime numbers are so critical that this one piece of information would secure the next stage in human civilisation. Well. Okay. I’ll buy that as a premise. 

And the civilised, rational and immortal Vonnadorian hosts had decreed that humans were too violent, venal and vapid for that sort of advancement. Too contradictory. Too emotional.

So they murdered Andrew Martin and put our narrator into his life in order to destroy his solution and anyone else he may have informed, including his colleagues, co-workers, his mum, his wife and child.

It comes as no surprise that the mission gets derailed when the narrator develops attachments, discovers his own emotions, allows himself to fall in love with Professor Martin’s wife. Spock balanced by  Kirk; Data by Riker. 

Nothing new but thoroughly enjoyable and amusing in places.

Mental health is a difficult topic to write about. A dangerous topic. It would be very easy for it to trivialise – or even worse, to glamourise – mental illness or trauma. 

And there were times here where is was a little concerned that the novel may be going down that route – the love of a good man, a makeover and a haircut will cure mental illness – but it managed to avoid it, skewing off at the last moment. It is also a book full of humour and comedy which it balances with the trauma beautifully. So that, overall, this was a delightfully tender and uplifting novel. For example, when describing an incident from her limited social life, she recalls a party which 

had merely been a pretext, a ruse of sorts to provide her with the opportunity to attempt to sell us sex toys. It was a most unefifying spectacle: seventeen drunken women comparing the efficacy of a range of alarmingly large vibrators….

I’m familiar with the concept of bacchanalia and Dionysan revels, of course, but… sexual union between lovers should be a sacred, private thing. It should not be a topic for discussion with strangers over a display of edible underwear.

And, on her own sense of loneliness, Eleanor remarks that

Apart from Social Work and the utility companies, sometimes a representative from one church or another will call around to ask if I’ve welcomes Jesus into my life. They don’t tend to enjoy debating the concept of proselytizing, I’ve found, which is disappointing.

Eleanor Oliphant, our eponymous narrator, has been at the same job and followed the same routine, living in the same house, for nearly a decade. We quickly recognise touches of OCD and perhaps ASD in her behaviour, her routines, her wide vocabulary deployed without regard for context. Touches, perhaps of The Rosie Project. Before many pages, however, we realise that Eleanor is scarred both physically and emotionally and her background containing more trauma than any character deserves.

We pick her story up as two incidents affect her life: she develops a crush on a singer in a local band; secondly, a colleague, Raymond, drags her across the road to tend to a pensioner who has fallen over.  Sammy’s accident and Raymond’s quiet and patient insistence – or insistent patience? – disrupt the regime and introduce Eleanor to an increasingly widening circle of acquaintances.

As well as providing her with a range of opportunities to describe her backstory to other characters and, therefore, to us the reader.

The involvement in Sammy’s family was the least convincing part of the story for me: I’ve called ambulances for people in the past And never gone on to visit them or attend their or their family’s parties. Perhaps that says more about me and social adequacy than anything else! But it provides the narrative momentum.

Eleanor herself is immensely engaging without ever being terribly likeable, the reader empathises with her without really liking her for the main part. She is a difficult woman, a difficult character, but a deeply damaged one for whom the reader roots throughout. 

And the issue of mental health wasn’t trivialised and no quick fixes were offered: the revelations when they came generally formed part of a journey towards recovery and no simple answer was offered. Not even the truth. Perhaps especially not the truth.

This was not my usual reading fare but i did thoroughly enjoy it and – more – was moved deeply by it. 

A great read.

If you enjoyed the following, you may enjoy this:

For various reasons – Ofsted, toddler, family visits – I’ve not been able to add reviews recently and am about to try to catch-up. Once again.

As an aide memoir to myself, to you – and a short cut to adding photos later, the books I’m yet to review are:

Autumn by Ali Smith: gorgeous, transformational, not (as advertised) a post-Brexit novel.

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The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden: a dark and wintry Russian fairytale mythic novel.

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bear nightingale

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett, a re-read of my favourite and first Pratchett.

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The Boy In the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen, a young adult apocalyptic novel.

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We Are All Made Of Molecules, by Susin Nielsen: a young adult family saga.

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The Plague Charmer, by Karen Maitland, an historical fantasy novel.

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