Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
Clare Morrall
ISBN: 0-9541303-2-4
The phrase 'never judge a book by its cover' could not be more relevant about this debut novel from Clare Morrall. When I first picked it up and looked at the blurb on the back cover, I was not immediately excited about opening the novel. I must say though, that this book swiftly became a one sitting story.
In the tradition of not giving away any plot lines, I will refrain from telling you all about Kitty Wellington, who is the narrator of the story, but I can fairly confidently predict that she will make you laugh, cry, feel sorry for her and feel sorry for all the people that she comes into contact with. She is very believable, real and the sort of lady we might all bump into during our own lives. The big question is whether you would want her to remain as part of your life, or whether you would prefer her to disappear as quickly as she arrives. I for one, would like her to stay, no I wouldn't, yes I would, no I wouldn't...get the idea? I think the trouble is that if what happens to her happened to a friend of yours, then you would want to offer as much support as possible, but if the damaged lady that is Kitty wandered into your life, I wonder if you would cross the street?
So, how is it written, how readable is it? Clare has written with ease, confidence and a sure knowledge of the subject. There was no time, (unless Clare determined it) that we were left confused about the story so far along with a tingling anticipation of what might happen next. When she meets the child (no plot revealed), then my heart went into my mouth with concern for Kitty, the child, the situation and what would happen if it were to happen to me. Great plot development!
I do wonder, on a slightly down side, if the book is written for a British market rather than an international one; the journey on the bus, for example would make more sense to a reader familiar with the public transport system. But it doesn’t detract from the tale, and certainly don’t make it a reason to not read the book. Just trust the author, when she is describing local systems and processes that she is right. On a particularly personal note, I happen to live in the area where she spends a lot of her escaping time and I can confirm that she has got both the geography and the feel of the area spot on.
BookerBloke verdict: 8out of 10
And I look forward to reading more of the same quality from this author.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Doctor's Wife

The Doctor’s Wife

By Brian Moore

Cape Publishing 1976

ISBN: 0 224 01322 X

Well, what a pickle this lady got into! A story of the older, married lady, emotionally abandoned by her husband, who finds love(?) in the arms of a younger man – or boy really.
This story or plot line has been told many times over the years, exploring the real cost of a five minute fling.  In this particular instance, it was over a fortnight, on holiday. I have to say, I began to feel very sorry for the main protagonist, Mrs. Redden. She was digger herself deeper and deeper in trouble, ably assisted by the young man, who seemed to be easing her into his manner of thinking throughout.
It is a very quick book to read in that it is quite a page turner. I found myself thinking for her, on her behalf.  I began to offer her advice. It reads as if you want to shout at her to point her away from what is the inevitable. She is quite a dunderhead for not seeing the most obvious problems with her urge to find emotional and sexual comfort. I must point out here that the part of the book that recounts the young man’s conquests are graphic, and leave nothing to the imagination. It is very explicit. However, once that section is finished with, it doesn’t return to it, and we concentrate on the after events and the conclusion. Bearing in mind this story is over 35 years old; I wonder if the author was stretching the literary boundaries of the day? It made me smile that whilst they couple were down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of the events, the author kept referring to her as Mrs. Redden, where she had been known previously, and subsequently as Sheila. Perhaps a relevant and subliminal point was being made there too.
Anyway, a story that begins at the end, with the following chapters that tell how we get to that conclusion, it is told  in a pithy way, with just the right amount of humour, loads of self pity and a awful lot of anger from Sheila. She is very believable as well; I imagine a difficult thing for a male author to do. But it is carried off well. It will be difficult for you to decide what will happen before you get there, and most of you who do read this book will feel sadness for her, (and him, perhaps), but how many of us will take it as a timely reminder of the results of neglecting your spouse, or the dangers of ‘playing away from home’?

BookerBookBloke Verdict 8/10 (except the naughty bit) 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Room - Emma Donoghue


By Emma Donoghue

Picador 2010

ISBN: 978 0 330 51901 4

In light of the events that are currently hitting the headlines from the United States, it seems prudent to bring this novel to everyone’s attention.
This story is told by Jack, five years old, and lives in Room. Of course the world of Jack is not a complete one; he believes that his room is the complete world and anything he sees on the T.V. is not real. His mother and he are, in fact, incarcerated by a kidnapper, with Jack being born in captivity. He knows no different lifestyle; the life he lives revolves around keeping quiet at difficult times, being scared, and being an ordinary boy who has just left behind the problems of being a toddler. This story recounts the life that he and his mother have and the changes that are all around them both following their freedom.  The different emotions can’t be more polarised, and excellently portrayed.

At the time, it seemed that is could be imagining the events surrounding Jaycee Lee Dugard, from California, who was reunited with her family a year before the publication of this book. She too had lived in a kidnap situation for eighteen years and had children at the hands of her captors. But, this book could equally be exploring the house and events so fresh in the news today.

The book is told in a factual, unsentimental fashion, without emotion from Jack, but please rest assured that the book is full of it from the author. It is a one sitting book, pull up your drawbridges, refuse to be disturbed and have lots of coffee and tissues at hand. Oh, and if you lend the book out afterwards, don’t expect to get it back; no doubt your friends will pass it on, deservedly so, as this book should be read by as many people as possible. What we all see in our daily lives that we think of as strange may well prove to be pivotal for somebody else. What is it that’s said about the random act of kindness from a stranger?

 Anyway, this is a great book in its own right, a worthy shortlisted book for the Booker Prize in 2010. It is a different type of read from those that would normally make this list, which makes it stand out on my shelf at home. As always, I am more than happy to discuss and reply to any comments you may have and I apologise for the literary quality of this blog, I feel the need to get this book into the public domain quickly is paramount, so...


BookerBookBloke verdict 8/10

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Utz By Bruce Chatwin

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...


By Bruce Chatwin

Jonathon Cape, 1988

ISBN: 0 224 22608 9

I have been to a whole new country, in a distant time and read about at least two subject matters I knew nothing about. I was either going to love it or hate it; well, I loved it!
A short text, that got straight to the point, as long as you have your wits about you at the start. Set in Czechoslovakia, with a time that spans over many years (but specifically the early 1970’s) we are led through an almost personal tour of Meissen porcelain figures, and their owner, Utz. Or have we? What, exactly, do we get?
We get a brief overview of the politics of the country, with an equally brief look at the history, along with the sinister world of the contemporary country lifestyle; the restaurant menu, the clientele and the decor gives a vivid view of the day to day life of Utz. Or is it?
So, what about Utz? We are introduced to him, and then led to believe, via the title of the work, that he would be the main protagonist. And so he is, isn’t he?
The porcelain figures are the next items of enigmas. They are the main reason for the story if you discount Utz himself. We are introduced to them, given the point of having them in the plot, and then, they determinedly float around the text along with all the other strands that serve to make this text what it is. It drifts along in a floating way as if it is daring you to grab the story and make a rigid plot out of it. As each page turns, you just know that it will all pull together to make something tangible, then you will realise it already is. So, why doesn’t it seem like it is a solid read? Because it is writing at its most skilful – not a word is wasted, there isn’t a word in there that doesn’t count, and the whole text, as short as it is, is the right length to keep the book floating exactly where it should be.
Be ready to be introduced to nondescript characters, ordinary situations in a less than exotic setting and then be prepared to leave behind a completely different setting, situation and character. The work of this international travel writer is as good as it gets. Please don’t look for a goodie or a baddie; a crime or a whodunit, those things are not what this book is about. This is about the obsessive behaviour of people that collect things and why they would want t do that. Why do people want to collect things? You could, I suppose, ask me, as I collect these shortlisted books. Perhaps, after all, I do know what the book is about, I hope you get it too!

I have opened a new blog, reviewing good books that deserve maximum exposure for being good! Have a look at Thank you for looking, and happy reading...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In A Free State

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

In A Free State
By V.S. Naipaul

Andre Deutsch, 1971

ISBN: 0233 95832 0

What an intriguing book. It is as relevant now as it was in the early 1970’s, when it was written. That timelessness makes it, for me, one of the classic titles that will be around for many years to come. The content, unfortunately, will also probably be around for many years to come. Let me explain...
The book is a series of accounts of people who attempt a life in a country that is not of their birth, in an atmosphere that is foreign to them. Each one believes they are going to, or becoming part of, a free state. Three long accounts, and a couple of shorter ones, all different, but all fundamentally the same, all telling of the struggle of life, looking for something better than they have, trying to create a better place for themselves and the world around them. Their successes and failures are explored in detail, but we are left to ponder the greater issues; just as a great book should leave us to do.
But enough of the plotline! I do try to avoid giving away any of the story itself, so as to retain the integrity of the author’s work, but I can tell you this much. It is tightly written, in as much as it wastes no words. Each sentence has a relevance to the tale and each sentence leads flowingly into the next one. It makes the work easy to read. I, for one, found myself concerned for the wellbeing of each of the protagonists, thus making the book a page turner. One of those tales that make the chores of the day disappear; the bedside light stays on just a little longer, or ‘lunch can wait’ for another half hour.
The descriptive text is, as far as I can tell, accurate and exhaustive. Set in three main locations, the description on England resonated in me as somewhere I recognised, so I have no doubt that quality research or first-hand knowledge was brought to bear with regard to the other locations.  But it doesn’t automatically make it a pleasant read. It is possible to make the reader quite uncomfortable, when he describes some of the things we took as the norm but are, in fact quite alien in our modern society. Or at least I would like to think so!
The book was written more than forty years ago, when the world as we know it was completely different. The great shame is that he could have probably written it in the last twelve months, and the story line would still be just as contemporary. Everything has changed, but absolutely nothing has changed. This is what will make this book important for the next hundred years or so. Perhaps Naipaul’s exposure of human endeavours, frailties, hopes and self belief, along with despair, prejudice and insulation by society will serve to alter the way the world looks at itself. But I wouldn’t bank on it!

BookerBookBloke verdict: 8/10

Why not have a look at my short story about the life of Florence Nightingale, taken from a slightly different slant. It can be found at:

Monday, 22 April 2013


This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...


By A. D. Miller

Atlantic Books, 2011

ISBN: 978 1 84887 453 4

For a debut novel, this book is fab!  In fact, for any book, this is fab! Set in modern day Russia, it tells of the good, bad and ugly of this country, seen from the point of view of a foreigner and Russian alike. The accolades for this story, written on the cover of this book sum up the quality succinctly; ‘Totally Gripping’ says the Times; ‘Disturbing and dazzling’ says the Sunday Telegraph.
The term ‘snowdrops’ is used by the Russians to describe the bodies that die during the Moscow winter, outside, where their corpse is only discovered with the melting of the snow. The down and outs, the tramps, the homeless and the occasional murder victim all remain under the winter snow for months, until the scale of the problem reveals itself in the spring.
If you transfer this thought to the more cynical world of bribery, blackmail, love trysts and the universal fact of a man who has his head turned by a pretty girl, then you have the makings of a tightly written, enigmatic book that sweeps you on the first page and carries you full pelt until it drops you off on the very last page. If you are truly lucky, this will be done in one sitting.  You will encounter all the seedier, corrupt side of Moscow, the coercion of women with a plan, the naivety of a foreigner in a strange land (a chap with certain influences), the simple side of old Russia and all wrapped up in a slow burning plot that you think you follow but I was never quite sure if the plot line would change. In my usual way, I won’t write of the plot line itself so as not to spoil it, but I did feel sorry for Nick, the British lawyer, but I also wanted to shout to him to watch out. I don’t think he would have listened anyway!
It is clear from the text that the author has an understanding of Russia, both before the revolution and since. His biography tells me that he as spend time writing of the country, an understanding that comes through loud and clear. Who knows, he might have even known the character Nick when he was there. So vivid and expansive is his descriptive prose. I am looking forward to his next offering. I do urge you to put a day aside with a large packet of chocolate biscuits and a pot of aromatic coffee to keep you going, and read this novel. You will not be disappointed (I hope) and if you are like me, you will discover a world previously not explored and although the story has been told in various guises, you will feel it has been told in a fresh new style.

BookerBookBloke verdict: 9/10

Friday, 12 April 2013

Anthills of the Savannah

Anthills of The Savannah
By Chinua Achebe

First Published in Great Britain, 1987, William Heinemann

My edition, 1988, Pan Books

ISBN: 0-330-30095-4

I chose this book for my next review for several reasons; the title is reasonably well known, the author is of international standing, (he has also won the international version of the Man Booker Prize) and as he recently passed away, I thought it might be a small, but nice way to mark his passing.  That is, though, about as polite as I can be.

I am a fairly intelligent chap, with fairly broad experience in reading all sorts of literature, but I found myself getting lost in the book. I don’t mean I lost myself in the plot, or the descriptive landscapes or inside the mind of the main protagonist; I just got lost...about half way through. I’m not too sure why, the text is rich in colour, the reflections wise and the characters real. But it is all far too dense.

I try to give a review without giving away the plot, and this time it is relatively easy; I could have had a stab at it within the first two or three chapters, but then the emphasis shifted, still not a problem. But as we drifted into an African folklore tale, and a poem that serves over two pages I became gently aware that I had now no idea what was going on, or where the book was going. But I knew where I was going, backwards. I was beginning to turn the pages back to check on what I might has misread, or omitted to read in the first place. Clearly, this was not the way forward.

This sounds as if I am being as if I’m being churlish, but I’m not being derogatory in any sense. The text is obviously cleverly written, the scenery lushly described and the darker moments in the plot line were quite stark, and, quite honestly, a little scary. The poem is ok too. I have no doubt that the subject matter, the life of prominent people within an African dictatorship, is written, I imagine, true to life, warts and all.  A place I would prefer not to be.

So off this book goes, back onto my bookshelf, perhaps to be tried again at another date. The Literary Word tell me that it is ‘a tremendous work, and a brave one.’ I’ll be content, for now, to take their word for it. As I say on my profile, life is far too short to read books that fail to engage you. Move on to the next one, and that’s exactly what I intend to do now.

BookerBookBloke verdict: 4/10

Monday, 8 April 2013

God On The Rocks

God On The Rocks
By Jane Gardam

First published 1978, Hamish Hamilton

My Copy: Abacus, 1981
ISBN. 0-349-11406-4

I’ve moved back in time a little for my next review, as the publishing details suggests, back some 35 years. I have found myself in a world habited by a religious zealot, an unhappy wife, a maid, (common of course, from ‘way up north’), a confused child and sundry characters who are introduced as the plot unravels. Sounds difficult to grasp? Well, it certainly isn’t.

It is a very easy book to read, once you have transported your mind back to the writing styles of the late ‘70’s, and then back to the timeline being written about in the story, the mid 1920’s. We are left to discover the time in which the story takes place, which is o.k. as long as we are not being left to discover where the story takes place. Clever wording brings clarity to both of these questions fairly early on, but not soon enough for my liking.  It will help as well, if you are from the U.K. or are familiar with English accents; the dialect of one of the characters is important to grasp, otherwise her involvement in the plot line loses some of its relevance.  And, we are led up a garden path quite early on. Just as you think you are meeting the main protagonist, emphasis switches. Still with me?...

So, we have a story with some looking back, in a nostalgic fashion, some with regrets, some looking forward, wondering if it will be still as confusing as an adult. Add into the mix a father with stern religious views, a house full of mentally ill, an aged, vindictive but regretful elderly lady who doesn’t see her two adult children, and we have the backbone of this short novel.

I am amazed that all these strands can come together in such a few pages, but they do and it works. The title of the book works in two ways – that will make sense if you choose to read this book. God is indeed on the rocks, in the literal sense, and God is certainly rocking in the stability stakes; as are many of the characters. But, along with my amazement, I find myself sitting here thinking just how good a story it is.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is told in a lively fashion, sharply written and it is a page turner. I read it in a very short time, and my mind was kept alert at all times. I would recommend this with the caveat that if you are less familiar with the foibles of the English and their ways, you might just find yourself struggling to grasp the nuances of the text.

BookerBookBloke verdict 7(and a bit) out of 10

Why not try my short story about the life of Florence Nightingale. It can be found at:

or what about the final night of Guy Fawkes before his death. That can be found at:

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Swimming Home

Swimming Home
By Deborah Levy

And Other Stories, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-908276-02-5

There is always a title that gives a different, odd look at something ordinary; in this case a holiday. The oddity comes in the form of the girl who was found swimming in the pool. The work itself though, is far from odd. Cleverly written, in a fast paced manner, it poses all the questions that one should expect from a Booker Prize shortlisted book.
I had no reason at all to disbelieve any of the characters, situations or the plot line at all, but it is also fair to say that the reactions of family members surely wouldn’t be the same as if it happened on our holiday. Would they? But it remains a page turner. It deals with issues that we perhaps prefer not to bring into the open, but it does do this with a sharp sense of humour and in a light fashion.
Depression, and all the effects it has on someone, and the immediate circle of family and friends becomes the main thrust of the story, but it is easy to get embroiled without realising it and then finding yourself in a tangled web with all the characters.
Why does Isobel, the wife, allow Kitty to remain after being found in the pool? And what is the significance of Kitty’s determination to have her work read by Joe, the husband and published poet? When the inclusions of the issues concerning Isobel’s friend, Laura and her husband Mitchell are explored, then the simple plot line takes a decidedly twisted turn. The last component for the story, their next door neighbour and the local villa caretaker, with their tale involvement the book transforms from a mundane idea into a book worthy of its place on the 2012 list.
Not the longest of stories, I read it in two sittings, it is a book that you will not want to put down, for fear of missing the next bit, and also from fear of losing the plot. It is very much a book to pick up for the quality value, and in my opinion, a fabulous tale of love found and lost, illness ignored and acknowledged and ordinariness with bizarreness thrown in for good measure. I want to call it a good yarn, but it is much better and cleverer than that. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.
BookerBookBloke verdict 7/10

Why not try my short tale about the life of Florence Nightingale on:

or spend the last evening alive with Guy Fawkes on:

Monday, 1 April 2013


By Jeet Thayil

Faber &Faber, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-571-27576-2

When the shortlist was announced, this was the book I looked forward to most. A new author, a tale of old India, Bombay, and all set in a time when turbulence abounded. It did, I’m afraid, leave me with a disappointment that causes me difficulty in writing this blog. You see, I couldn’t finish it. Taking my own mantra on board about not wasting time in struggling with a book you don’t enjoy, I failed to get past the first 70 pages.

I tried while waiting in the doctor’s surgery; I tried reading it as my bedtime reading; riding on a bus to work; and I even tried to read it as a study piece, in the quiet, at a table and almost making notes.  But nothing worked for me. The book makes no sense to me at all. To my mind, the author has mixed up the real world, the dreams and aspirations of the main protagonist along with opium filled settings, visions and hallucinations. Confused? I certainly was. I know that this was possibly the intention of Thayil.

I have no objection to new works written in new styles, but this particular one had me completely baffled. I can honestly say that I had absolutely no idea about what was going on; I do understand that there was a plot line and the failing is mine, not the authors.  I had decided that as the book was in the same sort of time era and geography, it would be in the same ilk as work by Rohinton Mistry. Trust me here, it isn’t! If I am fortunate enough to have Mr. Thayil read my blog, then I do apologise for not enjoying the tale, but not for the comparison to Mistry. For my money, the book doesn’t even get close.  

However, should you have read this book, or do so in future, I would welcome your comments on the blog site; who knows, I might be given a reason to have another look and trying to decipher the story. It just might need a long train journey to do so though.

BookerBookBloke verdict 2/10

Why not try my short story about the life and times of Florence Nightingale? 
It can be found, online at:

or one about the last night of Guy Fawkes:

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Other Hand

The Other Hand
By Chris Cleave

Sceptre publishing, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-340-96342-5

This post is about a book that failed to make the shortlist of the Man Booker list, but I was asked to read it this week, and it took precisely two nights. Nearly 400 pages of prose that transported me to a lifestyle I hadn’t realised existed, in a way that I felt both comfortable reading, but it made uncomfortable reading as well.
I must state at the very beginning that I cannot talk about the plot. As odd as that sounds, I have been asked not to, as you will be if you decide to buy this book. To quote directly from the back cover of my copy is says:
‘We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it’
That, in itself, is enough to make you want to look inside, and I am sure that you will not be disappointed. It is one of those books that you will sit on the sofa and forget your coffee, lunch and possibly even your children over. It is a bit of a leap of faith to buy a book without knowing even the plot line, but I can assure you that this tale will be one you will not have heard before, and although written in a style that is not new to me, it is an easy flowing, absorbing way to spend hours in a different place.
Rather than exposing the plot to public debate, I am more than looking forward to joining in commentary and debate with any of you that have read it and would like to discuss it further. I will ask a pertinent question at the beginning of the conversation to establish that you are not just fishing for the plot line. I’m sure you will understand.
There are a couple of issues I have with the book so therefore...

BookerBookBloke verdict: 9/10

Why not try one of my short tales at:

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
By Thomas Keneally

Angus & Robertson, 1972

(My copy: Flamingo, 1984)
ISBN: 0-00-6540937

I wonder if this book would have attracted my attention if it had not been for the ‘Booker Prize’ shortlist? Truthfully, I would guess not. A relatively short book, (my copy only being 178 pages), with a back cover blurb that suggested anger and despair. That is what I got! The comment from the New York Times, ‘A lean, spare, menacing novel’ is exactly what it is.
Written in short, somewhat unemotional terse text, similar, I think, to the way that Hemingway wrote, the seeming lack of exploration of the character’s well being served, at the beginning, to give a disjointed tale of separate short episodes that failed to join up. Until, that is, the chant of Jimmie rises out of the pages and almost thumps you on the nose!  Then, during the course of half a page, the tale sticks together like glue. All the previous episodes come back to your mind; you almost know where he is going next, and why. The underdog fights back! The writing style, while clearly remaining the same, appears different somehow. Where the book could be put up and down at will, the turning of Jimmie also turned me; I suddenly wanted to turn the page as fast as I could.

But will you change your opinion of Jimmie? Perhaps, but I didn’t really get to like him in the beginning, so I was certainly not going to change my opinion half way through. Not because of who is, or what he does, but I didn’t feel I was being let into his life.  Nor did I particularly like his victims. Yes, I’m afraid there are victims of his violence. While I didn’t like the way that Jimmie was treated, just because he was an Aborigine, the retribution did seem extreme. But perhaps I just think that because I’m not subject to that sort of minority abuse. Where is anybody’s snapping point? We all like to think we can stay in command of our emotions, but how would any of us react when our family is threatened? That, I think, is the real point of this story; if the underdog has nothing left in defence, then the only thing to do is attack. It has been happening all over the whole world throughout history, and will probably still be doing so in a thousand years time.  
In 1978, this true story was turned into a film although I have not watched it, so am unable to compare with the written text. I would imagine though, that the picture image quite graphic and bloody; beware.  I hope to have given you some idea as to the book quality without disclosing the plot; that does sometimes spoil it if you know what happens. I can tell you though, that it is not on my list for a second reading.

BookerBookBloke verdict 6/10

Try looking at my short story, available for download to your computer, smart phone or Kindle. I can be found at: 

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse
By Alison Moore

Salt Publishing, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-97773-17-4

In this first novel by Alison, we find a chap, Futh, his life, his future and in his marriage. He is misguided in all three aspects.  The seemingly simple task of taking himself on a walking holiday to get his life and head in order takes on a more sinister slant as he takes a two week holiday through Germany, in contemporary times. 
But this holiday will not turn out as it starts. He is, for example, not comfortable with the actions of the lady of the house in the first night’s accommodation. His distrust of her will serve him well, but his naivety will cause him to miss signs that will prove costly. Nor does he understand the actions and conduct of her either end of the story. The second encounter will have dramatic repercussions. Not only is Futh led along winding trails, so are we. He, and we, will meet a character who will leave us wondering at his worth; as a new friend and a character. While it is not quite ‘blink or you’ll miss him’ as his place in the story is of value, it is easy to dismiss him as the story goes on.
The tale is told with a steady speed, in a manner that expects the reader to have some idea of the geography, without going to deeply into the landscape descriptions that can sometimes add to a tale, and at others, simply serve to bulk out the text.  We are able to keep pace with the plot, developments and the thought process of the main protagonist.   The reasons for Futh going to Germany are made clear, and the memories that make up parts of the text serve well to give him a personality. We are then, I think, asked to make a decision about him; do we like him, feel sorry for him or just want to give him a big shake and tell him to pull himself together? Throughout the story, I guess all three options apply.
I do like a good ‘oooh’ moment in my reading matter, and I certainly got one here. But it was so understated I read that part twice, just to make sure I had read it properly.  I must stress here though, that that wasn’t a criticism, far from it. That made the book worthy of its place on the 2012 shortlist. So, if you like you book to creep up behind you and swipe you across the back of the head when you are not expecting it, then this book is for you. You will be told the relevance of the lighthouse; and no, it is not a place – he will never see one during his entire holiday...or will he?

BookerBookBloke verdict 7/10

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Garden of Evening Mists

The Garden Of Evening Mists
 By Tan Twan Eng

Myrmidon Books, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-905802-49-4

I am starting my blogs with a book that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading; not quite my cup of tea, so to speak. Set in the Far East, an area I know very little about, a subject matter of gardens that I equally knew little about, and a period of history that can often make uncomfortable reading. Add to all these things that were not going for this book, the fact that I struggle with the idea of a new author to me, this book was doomed from the start. How wrong on every level I was!
Set in the mountains of Malaysia, soon after the Second World War, the story is about a girl, Teoh Yun Ling, who has to face her demons by asking the acknowledged leader in the field of ornamental garden design for help. That help is for a memorial to her sister, who had died in a prisoner of war camp, run by the Japanese. The trouble follows in that the designer, Aritomo, is both the previous gardener for the Japanese Emperor, and a stubborn sort who won’t build the garden, but will take on Teoh Yun Ling as an apprentice to teach her how to build her own. When the fact that Teoh Yun Ling has spent the last years prosecuting the war criminals is put into the mix, we are entwined in a text that suggests hatred, vengeance, determination and empathy.
The Malaysian revolution is next added to the plot, and intrigue introduced to the text. The immediate dislike for Aritomo begins to be replaced with curiosity and a certain amount of sympathy. The conclusion of the tale will have to be read, rather than me giving the ending away, but I will offer the following...
There is an underlying threat that runs throughout the text, and a sense of danger is never far away. As with all well written books, one will either like or dislike each character. But be prepared to have that impression questioned and changed; that is not to say that everybody turns out to be a ‘goodie’. As for the garden, and its design, it is an important element to the story, but rather than it getting in the way, it is very easy to get involved with its progress, and all the things that happen concerning it.
In conclusion, I have had my eyes opened to a period of history I knew very little about, I now know a bit more about a geography I knew little about and all told in an exciting, vibrant way by an author that I knew very little about. A great read, I am looking forward to his next offering, while looking out for his previous work, ‘The Gift of Rain’
BookerBookBloke verdict: 8/10