A(nother) Review: White Bodies by Jane Robins

This is a funny time of year. Something seems to happen at around May/June every year where I get book fatigue. Of reading them, of writing about them. I wonder if it’s weather related, or if it’s just burn out.

 

It could be because I tend to read books four or five months in advance of when they come out, and the autumn is a quieter time for Fiction. It tends to focus on the big blockbusters, which is fab for them, but they’re not the sort of books I read. (Although, I am looking forward to the new Stephen King: Sleeping Beauties)

 

I like discovering new writers, and there are only a few brand authors who I follow. So, much to my delight, a debut novel, set for publication in late December crossed my desk – White Bodies by Jane Robins

 

This is a book about Callie a bookseller who begins to worry about her vibrant actress sister, when she falls in love Felix and begins to retreat inside her self.

 

Worried that Felix is abusing her sister, Callie begins to investigate.

 

The book actually begins at Felix’s funeral, Callie herself worried her role in his death is going to get found out. His death is not the focal point of this story, it’s the relationship between her Callie and her sister Tilda.

 

What Callie doesn’t seem to realise is that as Tilda falls under the spell of Felix, Callie herself is freed from being in Tilda’s thrall.

 

What follows is a twisting, unexpected rollercoaster ride of a novel, which just as you think you know where it’s going sends you lurching off into another direction.

 

It’s a little tricky to keep up with at times, and the ending does have you flicking back through to understand how it all ties together.

 

At the end you are left feeling you do know what is going on, but there is some room for doubt. As a result, it is a little but unsatisfying, but it does keep you guessing all the way through.

 

Sometimes, it’s only as I write these reviews, that I can reconcile how I feel about these books, and ultimately, as I struggle to find something to say about this book, I realise that White Bodies has left me wanting.

 

It’s by no means a bad book – I’ve read much, much worse – but this is fairly average fare. A convoluted and confusing plot coupled with an odd lead character (she eats her sister’s hair) means there’s not a lot the reader can engage with.

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the one to help me conquer my book fatigue.

 

White Bodies is published by HQ on 28th December 2017

Advertisements

The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

 

It’s really hard to review some books. I have a policy that I *try* to stick to of not revealing any major plot points, which can be difficult sometimes, especially thrillers.

 

I even know one person who get annoyed when she finds out a book has a twist, which I found hard to reconcile at first, because if there were no twists, then we’d have no books. But then I realised she was referring to the unexpected twists that you might get in an Adele Parks or a Jojo Moyes book, rather than in thrillers like Girl on the Train, which are screaming out at you that there is a twist.

 

Speaking of Girl on the Train, I’ve just finished reading The Watcher by Ross Armstrong, the latest but not the last in a long line of books where the publisher is comparing to the Paula Hawkins thriller.

 

There is, of course, a twist, and you read it expecting one, but where and how it comes is what keeps you turning the page.

 

The premise of The Watcher is that Lily lives in an apartment in a part of London where old blocks of flats are being demolished and replaced with luxury apartments. The mix of people on the estate is changing and Lily’s habit of bird-watching has also changed into watching her neighbours.

 

So far, so Rear Window.

 

One of the girls from the old part of the estate has gone missing, and most people are walking past the missing posters as if it’s nothing to do with them. Lily included.

 

But she starts to feel guilty. What if she should get involved. Maybe she can help. And so she starts to investigate and she soon learns that the person responsible may be in the flat opposite hers.

 

Her neighbour-watching steps up a gear.

 

All of this is told as part of a confessional, being recorded for some unknown person. Everything we know is from Lily’s point of view and while things start out as fairly standard, soon things start to become fantastical, and it’s hard to know whether we can really trust Lily, or whether writer is simply relying on some hackneyed clichés.

 

And… that’s all I can say without spoiling anything. It’s good. It’s better than Girl on the Train.

 

Armstrong treads a fine line at some points, and it nearly suffers for it, but he just about gets away with it, and makes for a fun Sunday afternoon read – it’ll make a great movie.

The Reader on the 6:27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

 

After reading the brief Grief is the Thing with Feathers I turned to The Reader on the 6:27, which at 194 pages is much longer – but still likely the second shortest book I’ve read in a very long time.

 

And here’s the thing. It’s too long.

 

The Reader on the 6:27 is the story of Guylain Vignolles a menial worker in a factory that’s sold purpose is to pulp books. I can, of course, relate to Guylain’s horror at all those lovely books being pulped, so full of potential, but not quite achieving it.

 

Every night he rescues from the machine some of the pages that have been pulped, and then, the next morning reads them aloud to his fellow passengers on his morning train.

 

It’s a wonderful hook, but what follows are two completely separate plots. While they don’t detract from each other, nor do they particularly compliment each other.

 

Guylain finds a memory stick one day, and reads the excerpts of the diary he finds on it. He reads it on the train, and then subsequently to the residents of the old people’s home he’s invited to visit by some of his passengers.

 

He falls in love with the writer of the diary entries and proceeds to track her down in her job as a cleaning attendant in a shopping centre toilet. His reading out loud on the train and the the subsequent consequences of that has no impact on his quest for his mysterious love.

 

It’s almost like the writer had a good idea, wrote it, and then realising it was a bit too short, fished in his ideas pool, found another good idea and stitched it together. It all feels a bit like padding, and I’m not sure entirely what the writer is trying to do.

 

Perhaps I’m too dense, or maybe there is no point to get.

 

The ideas ARE good however, and along with the writing and the unique cast of characters, they make a charming little book. It’s just a little galling that the publisher then slapped an £8.99 price point on it.

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is one of those authors who I always keep meaning to get around to reading. Instructions for a Heatwave was one of the biggest sellers in 2013 and I always intended to read it, but it didn’t ever find it’s way onto my reading pile.

 

Still, I knew a lot of people had read it, and the book had received critical acclaim, so when I heard of a new novel – This Must Be The Place­ – I was bizarrely excited to read it, despite having never read O’Farrell before.

 

This Must Be The Place tells the story of Daniel and Claudette who, at the beginning of the novel are a married couple living in a remote house in Donegal. Daniel is due to head back to America to see his family, but hears something on the radio on the way which sends him digging back into his past. The ramifications of the secret he’s hiding have a massive impact on his marriage and his family.

 

The story is told in the non-linear structure that most books seem to favour these days – on a side note, there must be a better way of putting that, terms like ‘time slip’ and ‘time jump’ always imply time travel to me. Google seems to suggest anachronistic, so I’m going with that.

 

The story is told anachronistically, a form that most books seems to favour these days and we learn of both Daniel and Claudette’s lives, before and after they met.

 

O’Farrell uses this structure to good effect to help us colour in their lives, and the supporting characters, particularly their children, seem vivid and real, however there are events with them that get avoided or brushed over in order to focus on the deconstruction of their marriage, despite some of these events being the driving force in Daniel’s behaviour.

 

The actual breakdown of the marriage happens off screen, we don’t really get to witness it, which feels bizarre, and in fact, there are many elements which we don’t see. Much of this book feels like we’re seeing the bits that are happening in between the big events.

 

It’s a bit like reading lots of reviews of a book, but never actually reading the book itself (ironic really, considering my opening paragraph about Instructions For A Heatwave) and because of that, it feels a little difficult to connect with the characters, Claudette especially.

 

For the vast majority of the book, the characters are not physically together, and we only have Claudette’s point of view in the past, we never really get her take on what’s happened, which is a shame.

 

The anachronistic chapters and characters all seem to be heading one way, towards one inevitable conclusion, and once again we don’t get to see it, it just gets hinted at.

 

All that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it – I only ever deconstruct books in this much detail when I do enjoy them – because in fact, I did really like it. O’Farrell’s choice to talk around all the important events gives us the opportunity to understand the character’s a little more than we would if the same number of pages were used to describe their arguments, or the big events in the heat of the moment.

 

Sometimes, though, it’s just a little jarring re-entering Daniel’s life and not knowing in what condition we’re going to find him.

 

I’ve given This Must Be The Place 3.8 out of 5. I think if just a little bit more had been done to engage us with Claudette, then it would have bumped it up over 4.

 

Maybe now I should finally get round to reading Instructions For A Heatwave?

Waiting For Doggo

Waiting For Doggo

By Mark Mills

We have a bit of a game in our office. We try and find the most ridiculous X meets Y descriptors for new books.

Publishers will often try to sell a book into us by telling us it’s the next Gone Girl (which was the next Before I Go To Sleep, by the way) – or the next Fifty Shades. If there’s no obvious comparison they’ll tell us it’s the prodigal child of two other blockbusters.

 

Maeve Binchy meets Dan Brown

Harry Potter meets Queer as Folk

Game of Thrones meets Bridget Jones (Bridget Thrones, anyone?)

 

Ok – so, we’ve never actually had any of those (as far as I know!) but these are the kinds of descriptors we get. It’s sort of ridiculous, for example Gone Girl was bigger, better and completely different to BIGTS, but sort of understandable. I’ve used it myself (Memories of a Murder is Agatha Christie meets LOST, in case you were wondering) – it’s a really quick and simple way of explaining what you’re going to get.

Last week I received a proof copy of the new Mark Mills – Waiting for Doggo. Frankly, I was sold on the title alone – but the inside blurb describes it as appealing to ‘readers of Marley and Me and One Day and fans of It’s A Wonderful Life’

I’ve never seen It’s A Wonderful Life (shock!), I adored One Day, and I’ve never been that enticed by Marley & Me, so I had no idea what to expect when I opened this book.

First of all, it’s nothing like One Day, it has nowhere near the same emotional punch – but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good.

It’s a short book, but it’s almost perfectly constructed. It tells the tale of Dan who’s girlfriend of several years one day, just leaves him, leaving only a letter behind. She takes everything that they bought together over the years, including a wooden salad bowl. The only thing she’s left behind is the most recent addition to their family, an ugly, rescue dog temporarily named Doggo.

Doggo and Dan do not get on, but somehow they start to form a bond as Dan starts his new job at an advertising agency. Amazingly, Doggo is the most well-drawn character in the book, despite actually not getting a huge amount of ‘page-time’ (like screen time, but on paper).

That’s not a put down on the other characters, I actually think the reason the books is because he’s not a character, he’s a real person who springs forth right at the beginning of the book – everyone else – including Doggo – are the characters we see develop through his eyes, some of the minor ones not that well defined, to be honest.

The similarities between Doggo and Dan are not subtle, but they’re not clichéd, it’s this link between them, along with a great sense of humour (the Hatchback of Notre Dame particularly made me chuckle) makes for a great book.

There is a small emotional punch – naturally at the conclusion of Doggo’s arc – which almost elicits a tear or two, but at a mere 208 pages, the book can’t afford to dabble in sentimentality and so avoids dragging it out too long.

Waiting for Doggo is it’s own book – it deserves to stand alone on it’s own merit, so whether you’re a fan of Marley and Me, Game of Thrones or midgets wrestling in jelly (that last one’s not a book, I hope) – give it a go, at most you’ll lose an hour or two of your life, but the chances are you’ll find a little gem.

For me, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

If you can get hold of a proof copy, then do it – otherwise you’ll have to wait until it’s officially published in November of this year.