THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
James Gault reviews Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People is a truly great book. It’s dressed up as a romantic novel but do not be fooled. When you remove the flashy ribbon and the colourful wrapping paper and open the box, it contains something as dark and bleak as dried peat from the Irish countryside.
It is almost impossible to take ‘normal’ people and mould them into interesting literary characters, so thankfully Connor and Marianne in this book are the antithesis of ordinary. They each have their own deeply-rooted flaws that turn their romance into a tragic love story on a par with ‘Romeo and Juliet’. These are two gripping protagonists who grab our attention, our pity and our support from page one until the final sentence.
The author’s ultimate accomplishment in this work is the way she understates important psychological themes, like bullying, abuse and self-loathing, and by making light of them, enhances their significance. The book identifies good and bad people; the bad being those who undermine the worth of others to bolster their own egos, while the good are their victims.
In a way, it’s an adolescents’ book. The characters are still fixated on that phase of Erikson’s psychosocial theory where concerns of identity and friendships pre-dominate. It’s the inability to resolve these issues that hinders the two main characters from finding the love and intimacy that should follow in the next stage of their lives. It’s what I suppose is called in literary terms ‘rites of passage’, with the twist being that the passage is blocked. This reader constantly found himself screaming at them: for God’s sake, BE YOURSELVES, don’t worry about what others think. It’s an absorbing story.
Although a Man Booker nomination, this is not a pretentious or clever book. Instead it is a masterpiece of simple storytelling. The chronological order of events is more or less respected, the language totally accessible and the narrative style clear and direct. It’s an easy-to read page turner, accessible to lovers of simple love stories as much as to those who look for deep psychological themes and moral messages. The book is brought to life by the author’s masterly ability to plumb the depths of her characters’ thoughts and behaviour and evoke our sympathy, and sometimes also our criticism.
Ted Bun reviews You Then, Me Now by Nick Alexander
A cleverly constructed tale of two visits to the Island of Santorini. (The Greek island where they take the classic white house, blue sea tourist pictures.)
For Becky, the two trips are a lifetime apart. For Laura, it is a painful return to try and find closure for the loss of the love of her life on the island.
Nick Alexander cleverly keeps the two stories separate and yet allows the reader to see how interwoven they are. Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s say there is a twist in the tail that I didn’t see coming until very close to the reveal.
Mr Alexander manages to weave an abusive, controlling, alcohol addicted character through the story. The hardship of life for the Greek people in the post-bail-out economy features too. This is not all the fluffy Shirley Valentine paradise.
An Excellent Read, worth every one of 5 Stars
James Gault reviews reviews The Summer of 71 by Ted Bun
Another new novel from prolific story teller Ted Bun, but it heralds a slight change of mood for him. Ted’s fans who know him for his feel-good naturist books are in for a bit of a surprise. Has he been tempted by the dark side?
It’s not like an out-and-out film noir, but Ted’s good guys characters have traditionally been very good, and his bad ones maybe a bit naughty and at worst quite unpleasant. This book celebrates the good side as enthusiastically as ever. Hero Mick and heroine Sam are a young couple, considerate and kind to each other and everyone else, and attracted to naturism by its culture of openness and helpfulness. But in this book they have to deal with others who are more than ‘not nice’; they are downright evil. Set, as the title suggests, in the early seventies, it captures not only the era’s good times – the motor cycles, the heavy rock music, the freedom of sunny beaches - but also the harsh world of teenage gangs, organised crime, extortion and drugs.
The couple meet in London in violent circumstances, from which they have to escape. Like the good guys they are, they decide to face up to the evil rather than just run away. So even as romance blossoms, they are constantly under threat, looking over their shoulders in case danger catches up with them. The author creates an atmosphere of joy underpinned with tension that keeps the reader’s attention from beginning to end.
Worth a read – it’s one of the good ones!
Ted Bun reviews Refusal by Felix Francis
In the past, I have read most of the genuine Dick Francis books. The Sid Halley stories being in among the best of them. I was tempted into this one by while doing some research for a story.
Sadly, Felix is not his father. The book moves forward in leaps and pauses. The character of Sid has changed, much more than marriage and fatherhood alone should have done.
The secondary characters get very little development, even Chico becomes a cypher of his former self.
If you are new to the Francis canon, it is a perfectly acceptable ripping yarn, but …. 3 Stars
James Gault reviews The Haunting of the Harlequin Goat by Richard Savin
A refreshingly fun book! If you like mysteries, here’s a book you won’t be able to put down until you get to the end. Author Richard Savin has woven a complex and intriguing plot that will keep the cogs of your brain whizzing round at full speed as you try to unravel all the possibilities and work out exactly what is going on.
Dr Lydia Kroll, a New York psychiatric counsellor, takes on a new patient. His symptoms – a recurrent dream of meeting a scarecrow, a young girl and a goat wearing a blanket with a multi-coloured diamond design. Is it just a dream? Is it a hallucination? As she starts to unravel the case, she herself is subjected to visitations from the mysterious trio. Are the symptoms due to some repressed trauma in her patient’s past life? But why then is she too having the visions? Are we concerned here with the supernatural, or is there a logical explanation?
As the story progresses, the reader is thrown new clues, red herrings and possible explanations faster than the mind can handle. Are we dealing with reality or fantasy? Have dastardly deeds been done? Are deep hidden secrets being concealed? Keep going, because all will not be resolved until the final page.
This book is pure entertainment; don’t look for deep messages, for illuminating character insights or for scintillating poetic language. The book is written in a professional, no-nonsense reportage style and races along as our psychiatrist/journalist/detective heroine uncovers fact after fact in this masterpiece of the literary puzzle. Read and enjoy!