Book reviews

Lethal White – J.K. Rowling

There is no doubt that JK Rowling (OK, Robert Galbraith) is one of the best in the business at the moment for writing expertly drawn characters, painfully realistically muddling their way through life. You care, you really care about them. When they suffer, you do too, and the plot for the latest Cormoran Strike instalment expertly weaves the very topical theme of political abuse scandal with her favourite topic of the gap between the rich and the poor. As with all her post-Potter work, it is the leitmotif that brings it all together; at times a little overdone but nevertheless very effective, she never misses a chance to have the poor character call out the rich one’s throwaway comments about how a five grand painting is worth peanuts.

Her dialogue is unrushed, very well observed and often heavy with significance that isn’t at first apparent. However, in my extremely humble opinion, this steady and unhurried discourse is also a weakness of the book. It is overly long, and though its probably too easy to claim that she can get away with anything because of who she is, I do think some judicious editing is needed here. One suspects cutting a hundred or so pages would produce a leaner, keener tome that the current 700 pages doesn’t quite manage.

Saturn Over the Water – J. B Priestley

Written at such a break-neck pace and with layer upon layer of plot expertly woven together, this is a little gem of a book – not half as well known as it should be, as much of Priestley’s work is overshadowed by his monumentally clever and thought-provoking An Inspector Calls. There are plenty of coincidences in this short novel, but Priestly admits as much through his narrator and I didn’t find these to be beyond imagination – that they were useful vehicles for the plot to be advanced was perfectly acceptable given the strength of story and the way in which the characters and their relationships were sympathetically and intriguingly drawn. His talent for this observation of social inequalities and injustices is expertly demonstrated in his most famous stage work but is also given full reign here – sense of duty, personal sacrifice, idealism and loyalty all shine through in this romp across the globe. I relished the hints at supernaturalism and something ineffably bigger and more profound than our individual selves. Perhaps in our troubled times, reading this book today is one of the most useful things one could do with their time.

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

This very well-known book (the title is superb and highly memorable) from the towering Kazuo Ishiguro is elegantly and beguilingly written – but for this reader at least, is somewhat frustrating. It perhaps suffers from a rather unsympathetic and unrelatable main character, and though the reader is sympathetic to his duty and honour, putting job above family and even death could be a difficult leap for a modern audience (or perhaps a Western audience?) Some very complex subjects are touched on bravely, but matters of antisemitism are brushed over a little and don’t seem fully explored. There is, perhaps, a lesson contained in here somewhere; this is a wasted life, unjustified and lived by a somewhat deluded but very well-meaning protagonist who allows himself one line of regret only so that the reader may be tempted to ask, as the character does; ‘where’s the dignity in that?’ (82/100)

The Enemy – Lee Child

Written in typical Lee Child no-nonsense style, The Enemy is a relentlessly logical, cool-headed and riveting travel-thriller, where clues are worked meticulously in Reacher’s inimitable style. This instalment, however, (perhaps to break up the lengthy reasoning sequences and travel scenes) has real heart, and has the power to move the reader more than most Reacher books. The scenes with Reacher’s brother Joe and his mother left me wet-eyed – perhaps the only time in the whole canon where Reacher is under so much pressure both personally and professionally. The sparsity of the prose works extremely effectively to paint these poignant scenes in with pin-point accuracy. Amongst the violence, militaria and avenging that fans have come to expect, the human observations and dry humour are a real pleasure to read, and places and cultures are brought to life effortlessly. The goodness and righteousness in Reacher is never more evident. A superb book. (94/100)

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

One of the most profound books you’re likely to read this year. I found its rich prose far too close for comfort for most of the way. It is unarguably a heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming stab at putting words to the indescribable power of Art in our lives. (95/100)

I am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

A grim, unapologetic but captivating book. Debut writer Terry Hayes almost never puts a foot wrong, except for some slight stylistic mis-steps (the dot dot dots at moments are tension seem unnecessary as does the exclaimed ‘whack!’). This is a book thick with plot – storylines chasing each other one after the other, layered up, encompassing a whole gamut of characters and time frames. The choice of the first-person narrator is curious, causing some issues when characters seem to know a lot about events they seemed not present for, but these are minor issues in this huge tale. A great book to read on a long journey and one to remember for many months after. (90/100)

 

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