Tuesday, 24 May 2016


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EARLY ONE MORNING [By Virginia Baily]. It’s been a long time, a very long time . . . in fact this could be the first time ever . . . that I have read a novel without a single significant male character. Quite an achievement Virginia Baily. Hope you are pleased with yourself.

Took me over a month to read; I never wanted to pick it up; I don’t have the bandwidth for something like this. To be honest, I should have stopped long before the end. It is 400 pages long; dense, dense, tell, tell. A tsunami of words, hollow, meaningless. Someone put a review on Amazon that I cannot really improve upon:

This novel has interesting premises and very promising situations and settings, but it's very slow at the same time that there's too much going on-- the relationship between the central character and her father's mistress (potentially fascinating but incompletely explored); the relationship between the protagonist and her epileptic sister (also incompletely addressed); the relationship between the protagonist and a priest is vague and her relationship with her adopted son is odd in ways that are neither examined nor explained. It's not especially well-written either-- it's wordy and even occasionally repetitive, redundant. The plot isn't linear, which is OK, but incidents that could have foreshadowed the climax are misplaced too close to the end. I had high expectations after listening to an interview promoting the book on Radio 4's 'Women's Hour', but I was ultimately disappointed.

Having said which, the central character, Chiara is a very good creation and the famous Chapter 9 is worth staggering on to; if you are still not caught up by Chapter 9, stop.

It cost me 0.01p on Amazon Marketplace; a brand-new unread hardback copy. I do wonder if it is selling many copies Little Brown [?].

MAKE ME [By Lee Child]. This is the latest Jack Reacher thriller, someone left it behind at our holiday apartment on the French Riviera. £20 on the cover; someone is doing very well indeed.

Never read a Jack Reacher novel. Two very good things about it: no cops [big plus point]; up to date technologically . . . they text [!] they e mail [!] they remember to switch their phones on [!]. Brilliant.

It’s in very short chapters; haven’t really come across that before, so that on page 116 you are on Chapter 22. Yes, short sentences as well but I don’t mind that I write in a similar fashion, it brings impact when you need it. It is dark, which I hadn’t expected and wasn’t prepared for. Looking at the Amazon reviews, people seem to think it is too dark and in the same way as I was, weren’t really prepared for it. No swearing; not one four-letter fuck in the entire 420-pages even from the evil bad guys in Chicago.

Did I like it? It was OK. I raced through it. I had to suspend credibility far, far too much. Buying all those guns in the middle of nowhere? Jeez. And way too many coincidences: at least five doors that hadn’t been locked and a gated community that should have been a major problem to enter that they just sailed through. A little of that goes a long way.  

The description of Reacher walking the town was spell-binding: ’He saw plenty of stuff’. Houses still lived in and some empty. Some converted to offices. He saw a gas station and seed merchants. I’m all for setting the scene but there were pages of this and it was mind numbing and it kept on coming. The exciting part was when we were told that the town even though it had been semi-circular was laid out in a grid. I could hardly put it down.

Actually what I really thought was, if he submitted the first three thousand words of this to an agent under the name Kikarin Chadwick, rather than Lee Child he would receive a pretty severe rejection letter. Don’t think I will read another one.

ALIAS GRACE [By Margaret Attwood]. My first Margaret Attwood. I tried to read Handmaidens Tale [twice] and found it . . . I don’t know . . . preachy? And gave up. This is pretty preachy too, it was shortlisted for the Booker in 1996 the year Graham Swift won it for Last Orders, which I have read and liked. It’s okay. My main-man Hilary Mantel has added her own thoughts on the back cover to the effect that she has a wonderful prose style and indeed she has; beautifully constructed sentences which flow into apparently convoluted paragraphs which then resolve themselves into . . . well . . . literary fiction at its best. Try this from page 422:

Yet he doesn’t feel she dislikes their conversations. On the contrary, she appears to welcome them, and even to enjoy them; much as one enjoys a game of any sort, when one is winning he tells himself grimly. The emotion she expresses most openly towards him is a subdued gratitude.

He’s coming to hate the gratitude of women. It is like being fawned on by rabbits, or like being covered with syrup: you can’t get it off. It slows you down, and puts you at a disadvantage. Every time some woman is grateful to him, he feels like taking a cold bath. Their gratitude isn’t real; what they really mean by it is that he should be grateful to them. Secretly they despise him.

Fawned on. Genius. She flips tenses constantly from past to present and from first-person to third, quite effortlessly. A writer completely on top of her craft, so why spend five-hundred and fifty words on a mid-nineteenth Century sixteen-year old servant girl in Canada? She isn’t interesting enough. Canada in 1843 isn’t interesting enough. If one wrote 550 words say on David Attenborough’s life and times that might be interesting but then again, it might not. She uses the historical text to draw our attention to the hypocrisy of the times. Man employs kitchen maid; gets kitchen maid pregnant; throws out kitchen maid onto street; gets new kitchen maid; gets new kitchen maid pregnant . . . except Grace bites back.

I can’t read anything for the pleasure of the prose so to speak; there has to be something else.

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