THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
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James Gault reviews Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
This is a brilliantly written novel; but it is also a book which struggled to keep my attention.
Written by a creative writing professor, long-listed for the Man Booker and winner of the Costa Book Prize, the reader expects scintillating and inventive writing, and this work does not disappoint. In this story of a village surviving under the dark cloud of the disappearance of a young girl, the author paints beautiful imagery and engrossing characters on a canvas of a writing style that breaks all the rules. He tells and not shows. He favours indirect to direct speech. He wallows in the passive voice. The incidents are delivered in a journalistic fashion without any great detail. Overall, the reader gets the impression of being given privileged access to the local gossip.
However, the distance imposed by this innovative style has to overcome the problems which creative writing classes and books warn authors about. If we only hear about the characters rather than actually meet them, it becomes hard to get to love (or even hate) them. Does McGregor overcome this obstacle? In some sense he does, although he has to cheat a little. He is forced to use long sections of direct dialogue which he camouflages as indirect speech by just leaving out the quotation marks. He gets away with it; we finally get into the characters and only the most pedantic of readers (like me) spot the subterfuge.
For me, this is a book that is nearly prefect but just doesn’t quite get there. A mystery, but not enough mystery. A slice of country lifestyle, but not enough excitement. Interesting characters, but I can’t quite get into them. It’s certainly a worthwhile read, but don’t be too picky about it.
Ted Bun reviews Checking Out by Nick Spalding
Checking out is the story of a great musician who by accident has created a hit series of singing vegetable songs (think Teletubbies or the Herbs if that helps) Who manages to sell the franchise so he can move on … just as the symptoms of a brain tumour start to effect his behaviour. His strange stammer and language difficulties help lose his girlfriend … but he finds another. The thing is, is it fair on her to let her fall in love? Should he tell her? Can he tell her?
Varying from laugh out loud to deeply saddening it is a really well told story.
James Gault reviews If The Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
This is a book of two halves in almost ever way. The protagonist, Kerr’s cynical German detective Bernhard Gunther, Noreen, his American love interest, and his nemesis, the crook Max Reles, all appear in both halves. But this is about the only unifying element that blends the two halves into a single novel.
The first half is set before World War 2, the second after. The first half takes place in Europe (Berlin and Vienna) while the author transports the reader to pre-Castro Cuba in the second. And while our pre-war hero fights political corruption with the courageous foolhardiness of youth, his post-war disillusioned incarnation seems to have lost all his vim and vigour. As a result the second half seems slightly insipid and lifeless, although it does recover after the murder about half-way through.
I’ve noticed the same loss of virility while reading the series as a whole. With youth on his side and Hitler to hate, Bernie Gunther is a character that jumps off the page and grabs you by the throat. Older and relocated away from his home territory, to the Caribbean or the south of France, he’s just not the same man. This change of character may be a point the author wanted to make, bit it can’t avoid taking the edge off the intrigue a little.
But don’t let this little criticism put you off reading this. Kerr was a master of his craft and this is still a five star read. Enjoy it!
Ted Bun reviews The Girl from Berlin: Standartenführer’s Wife by Ellie Midwood
I was going to start on the World War Two Chronicles, when I opened this book in error. I’m glad I did. A captivating read about a young lady Annalise, the want to be ballet dancer daughter of a family of “hidden” Jewish refugees in Berlin in the 1930s. The story gets darker as the power of Nazi Party grows. Strangely Annalise finds love in the arms of Nazi officer the “Standartenfuhrer” of the title. The twist and turns mount as we discover that the Standartenfuhrer is not just a Nazi with friends in high places.
Great Read 5 Stars