THE BEAN TREES [Barbara Kingsolver]. Another American writer but this time with some wit and humour. This is her first ever novel and it is about twenty years old; we had it on the bookshelf at home and after much prodding, I finally got round to reading it. Glad I did, its good. Amazing reviews on Amazon and not all from women surprisingly.
It’s about a young girl, I think she is about twenty years old who leaves home in Kentucky in an unreliable VW heading west and on the way, an Indian woman deposits her two-year old daughter on her. She names the girl Turtle and the rest of the novel is a kind of American road journey following the girl [Taylor] across country to Tuscon, Arizona and the many people she meets on the way. Her writing is a lot like mine, first-person throughout but she has the same faults; too much dialogue; too many short sentences; too much self-deprecation which gets irritating after a while but I liked the humour . . . she doesn’t get it right all of the time . . . but she gets it right enough times to make me think I would try another of her books. This is typical of when it works:
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I was getting used to it. I watched Turtle roll from her side to her stomach and back again. Her eyes rolled back and forth under her eyelids and sometimes her mouth worked too. Whoever she was talking to in her dream, she told them a whole lot more than she’d ever told me. I would have paid good money to be in that dream.
It’s a novel, a work of fiction and again rather like my own books, the story is contrived. Reviewers speak of cardboard characters but I thought she got most of them right. There are complaints about ducking the real issues, Turtle has been sexually abused for example and some readers seem to think that the issue should have been explored in more depth, but that would be a different book. I was pretty happy with what she actually published. I think that what she has written is a book about the tension between Being and Becoming . . . that is, the idea of holding on to what is permanent within you while you are forced into incessant change by circumstance.
If I had a complaint it would be that the voice is that of a highly intelligent, educated writer/author rather than an uneducated rural twenty-year old. Not sure what she could have done about that other than give her a college education before she set out on her road journey. The trouble is, editors, agents and publishers don’t really like authentic teenage voices as I have found out to my cost. They prefer you to write like what they think is a real young person’s voice.
IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE [Adrian McKinty]. Long time, could be ten years since I read anything by Adrian McKinty; probably Falling Glass  which was a disappointment, particularly in light of the first terrific hundred pages. I’ve moved away from Noir Fiction over the years, I think it’s to do with the fact that I have more time to read now and am prepared to take chances on things that previously seemed interesting but if you only have time to read one or two novels a month, then perhaps you are inclined to stick with the usual quick fix and trust what you know. This is the novel with the famous locked room mystery. Goes on for far too long . . . takes up half the book, more in fact . . . and Sean Duffy with his drugs and his fags and liquor and his unprotected sex just doesn’t appeal to me. Yeah, yeah classic anti-hero characterisation but I don’t have to like it.
However, the story has pace and some lovely writing. The secondary tale about his old school adversary, Dermot, now a big deal in the IRA is well done and Dermot himself seems fairly authentic as an intelligent but misguided, young man. In fact I would have liked to hear more of Dermot’s worldview and how he could justify the murder of innocents. Quoting Trotsky’s War is the Locomotive of History seems a wee bit of a cop out. Some reviewers have criticised the adoption of the Brighton bomb plot in a work of fiction designed to entertain but I was okay with it. And you can see why Dermot has no time for Duffy: Duffy on the evidence anyway of this book is what my father used to call a know-all a character trait most men would run a mile from. Whatever the subject; music; history; geography; myth & legend, Duffy knows all about it. Worse, he insists on telling you what he knows.
Not sure if I will read any more Duffy books. Basically, I am not that interested in the troubles and with nine new novels on my TBR pile at the moment, I don’t think the next McKinty is a priority.
THE MOORS ACCOUNT [Laila Lalami]
I quite liked this. Shortlisted for an American Pulitzer prize [won by All the Light we Cannot See] in 2015 it has an extraordinary range of reviews on Amazon 6xone star and 11xfive star [!]. The one-stars complain that it is repetitive, which it is and the five-stars praise it for bringing history to life, which it does. It’s definitely far too long; badly needed an editor but it’s a period of history I know little about so I was interested to have a light shone it.
It’s the story of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave who was one of the four actual survivors of the 1527 Spanish expedition to La Florida. His account of the cruel and ludicrous dealings of the gold-hungry Spanish Conquistadores with native Americans is gripping and chilling. Reduced by battle, disease and hunger to desperate castaways, a dwindling band of survivors gradually comprehends and adapts to the native culture as it makes its way towards Spanish territory in Mexico. There is a written account which Laila Lalami has fleshed out imaginatively and perhaps the one-star reviewers really ought to be reading about the Spanish conquest of Central America in academic non-fiction literature. But this is a work of fiction and it works for me.