Wednesday, 7 October 2015


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LIFE DRAWING [by Robin Black]. Not sure how this came to me; it has some terrific reviews on Amazon but I don’t think from memory, that was why I bought it. Might have been a newspaper review. I quite liked it. I liked the premise: a first person narration of a forty-plus woman who had an affair in her recent past, and the fall-out from that and the never-ending guilt. This is how one Amazon reviewer summarises it:

I was disappointed. What is this novel about really? Well for one thing it is about regret: staying too long in a bad relationship, destroying trust, losing touch with people, among other things. It is about loss and disappointment. But especially, it is about how even intelligent, well meaning people make mistakes, and how sometimes these mistakes pile one on top of another until there is a disaster.

Well, I think that was Robin Black’s intention but the execution is something else. The main character, the narrator, has no friends. How do you get to forty-five or whatever and have no girlfriends you can confide in. And the cheated husband, he has no friends either and both of them work from home and are butting up to one another 24/7 and there are no kids and his parents are remote academics and live hundreds of miles away and her mother died when she was five and . . . .

I mean how many contrivances can you cram into one novel?

No sex. Why? Because Robin Black has teenage daughters [it says so in the biog at the back] and for sure she doesn’t want her girls reading any realistic sex scenes. Jeez mom. The end, with the force of a deus ex machine, prepared for, but still somewhat un-believable, was awful and was yet a further layer of contrivance upon contrivance.

Nice, beguiling prose style.

THE BONE CLOCKS [by David Mitchell]. Threw in the towel on this about half-way through and to be honest, I had warning bells from about page fifty. Can’t believe this gobshite was written by the same person who wrote a Thousand Autumns which is one of my all-time favourite novels. It just went on and on saying nothing; all style; breaking no new ground, not even very interesting characters.

It has good reviews on Amazon so by and large I am in the minority although there is a fairly substantial group of mainly male reviewers who feel the same way as I do.

OLIVE KITTERIDGE [by Elizabeth Strout]. It is hard to warm to Olive. Cantankerous and always right but I read this about a year after watching the television series and I think the TV producers probably took the edge off her a bit; which for me was a good thing. An unusual example of where the film was an improvement on the book.

It is, if you don’t know a series of linked short stories some of which feature Olive, or Henry her husband or her son but others hardly mention her. It’s a good device and you need pretty incredible writing skills to work within that structure. Some stories are a bit limp but some are wonderful, the first one, Pharmacy, in particular. It’s a bit contrived in places but not overly so, in the way Life Drawing, [above] is contrived.
Henry, in his interior world is a very sophisticated character: not come across that in any other novel that I can think of.

I seem to have read rather a lot of American literary fiction lately and was becoming a little jaundiced I think. Too much style, lovely writing, yes but rather empty story-lines and characters . . . particularly male characters but Olive has definitely renewed my enthusiasm.

ANTARTICA [by Claire Keegan]. I bought this to take on holiday with me having loved her two other novels, Foster and Walk the Blue Fields but to be honest was a bit disappointed. I hadn’t realised it was from 1999 and was her first attempt. Walk the Blue Fields is much, much better. Sorry Claire. Maybe if I had read it at the time, when I was much younger and possibly wanted different things from a book, I would have appreciated it more.

If you haven’t read Walk the Blue Fields you must put it on your Must Read List. Fabulous piece of work.

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