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