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The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012)

September 17, 2012 2 comments

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012) sees the BBC, through the agency of Gwyneth Hughes, taking on the difficult task of not only adapting a piece of fiction by Charles Dickens, but also finishing it. For, as we all know, the Great Man had the bad grace to die without telling anyone whodunnit. Something that has been deeply annoying to generations of readers every since. By any standards the fragment and this adaptation form a real potboiler. We have the delicate seventeen-year-old flower who’s in line for a good slice of money under her father’s will, a young fiancé who’s not much in love with her — it was one of these childhood engagements and neither is red-hot for carrying through — the jealous uncle who’s role as choirmaster makes him look virtuous, and the orphaned twins from Ceylon who come to this country to complete their education.

John Jasper (Matthew Rhys) showing his dark side

The opening scenes are all done with great visual style as John Jasper (Matthew Rhys), deep in his opium dreams, fantasises about killing his nephew Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox) while the object of his affections, Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant) looks on from the gallery running round the inside of the cathedral. In short order we then have him hurrying back to Cloisterham to conduct the choir, Edwin meets with Rosa, and the Landless twins, Helena (Amber Rose Revah) and the appropriately hot-tempered Neville (Sacha Dhawan), arrive under the protection of the Reverend Septimus Crisparkle (Rory Kinnear). Lurking in the cathedral crypt is the dreary Durdles (Ron Cook). Initially out of sight, the necessary lawyer and Roa’s guardian, Hiram Grewgious (Alun Armstrong) and his clerk Bazzard (David Dawson) stand ready to give advice and support when necessary.

Rosa (Tamzin Merchant) looking suitably virginal

It’s played as a pure drug-fuelled psychodrama as we’re allowed to watch the virtuous choirmaster disintegrate. His life in the cathedral has been one of crushing boredom. For all he loves the music, there’s no prospect of change let alone any advancement. Hence his addiction and his trips to the opium dens of London. His fixation for Rosa is there for all to see and yet, of course, none of the church folk see it. Similarly, his pathological jealousy of Edwin should be obvious, but everyone wants to see only the good in the man. Neville’s arrival is literally Heaven-sent. He’s a natural scapegoat and, if there’s to be suspicion, it will naturally fall on the foreigner.

Neville (Sacha Dhawan) quick to anger

Thus far, it looks as though we’re more or less on track for a routine completion of the hoary old tale, but then something rather remarkable happens. I don’t think I can recall anything quite so radical as a revision or completion of an existing work. This wins a prize for chutzpah not just from the author, but also from the BBC for making it. Let’s start with the reasonable decisions. I approve abandoning the character Dick Datchery and allowing Bazzard to do the on-the-ground sleuthing around Cloisterham. It also seems a better line to make Princess Puffer (Ellie Haddington) into the kind of blackmailer who listens carefully to what her opium addicts say while they dream, prompting them with questions as their words slow. Although, if I wanted to be less forgiving, I would characterise the role as a quack recovered-memory therapist who wants to heal John Jasper by helping him remember what he did. The rest of the plot innovations are, if you’ll forgive the pun, egrewgiously bad. I feel constrained not to engage in spoilers and so will content myself with generalities. Whatever his faults and, by modern standards, they are many, Charles Dickens wrote in a linear narrative style. It has the clear virtue that the reader can follow the action and watch it unroll. He did not seek to emulate the twist endings that made O. Henry (pseudonym of William Sydney Porter) so popular. As rewritten, this version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a nonlinear narrative in which we access the past in non-chronological order through the opium dreams of John Jasper. Needless to say, the fact these dreams are fuelled by opium makes John Jasper a classic example of the unreliable narrator.

Helena Landless (Amber Rose Revah) as the voice of common sense

So Bazzard in Cloisterham begins the process of uncovering previously unsuspected plot elements, while John Jasper is acting like a man afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder and uses the opium to reconnect with past events. Not unnaturally, when John Jasper awakes (thanks to Princess Puffer’s promptings), he has a better view of the past and journeys back to Cloisterham with Rosa for the big climax. The “twist” then comes in two parts. The first has some potential credibility in the culture of the times and it also fits in with the “ghostly shriek” heard in the cathedral a year or so before the main action takes place. The second is one of the worst examples of a deus ex machina I can recall. Sometimes, the unexpected event can at least provide some comic relief as we move into the expected happy ending. But this is simply ludicrous. Whatever value there might have been in this production died when this particular deus stepped out of the machina. That it’s followed by a hopelessly contrived romance compounds the nausea-inducing quality of the ending. So it’s worth watching the first episode of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This is the BBC doing period drama rather well. If you decide to watch the second episode, fortify yourself with a strong drink and keep ready one of those brown paper bags airlines believe will catch projectile vomit.

Oliver Twist (2007)

April 15, 2012 4 comments

Watching a new BBC Television adaptation of an old classic often gives the viewer the chance to reassess the original film versions. So long ago, I paid to go and see the film adaptation of Oliver Twist based on the novel by Charles Dickens, starring Alec Guinness and Robert Newton. They were formidable as Fagin and Sikes, dominating the proceedings with their menace and David Lean’s brilliant direction. Perhaps that’s why John Howard Davies, who played young Oliver, went on to have a career based on comedy. Anyway, I was musing throughout this latest television adaptation by Sarah Phelps, and I was struck by number of quite different thoughts. Let’s start with the workhouse. This was suitably bleak and seemed to be completely lacking in any attempt to educate the children. This leads me into the old nature/nurture debate. In this version of Dickensian reality, it seems Oliver Twist (William Miller) will always emerge from the horrors of deprivation and abusive punishment with almost complete innocence and a trusting nature. He immediately feels different when meeting the Artful Dodger (Adam Arnold) and subsequently going through grooming by Fagin (Timothy Spall). He almost instantly relates to Mr Brownlow (Edward Fox). This is disturbing. Mr Bumble (Gregor Fisher) has it right when he says almost every boy from the workhouse ends up a career criminal, i.e. transported or hung. Charles Dickens is playing the game of binary opposites. Oliver is not the Dodger, Fagin is not Mr Brownlow. It’s odd that having introduced Noah (Adam Gillen) in the opening sequences at the undertakers, he does not reappear with Fagin. The whole point of Noah in the novel is that we see him as a bad lot and have this confirmed when he later joins Fagin in London. This is the career expected of all those of a criminal disposition. Somehow Oliver is immune from this fate. He’s the changeling who immediately fits in with the Browlows of this world.

William Miller as quite a well-fed Oliver

The decision to cast Sophie Okonedo as Nancy is rather pleasing although I’m not convinced anyone brought up in the East End would be so quickly motherly to the likes of Oliver. Julian Rhind-Tutt as Edward Leeford (or Monks when he meets with criminals) is decidedly the most personable villain we’ve seen for a long time. He’s a delight which is not really the impression he ought to be creating. I prefer him to be rather more Gothic. The decision to make him the grandson of Mr Brownlow is bizarre. Although Charles Dickens also plays with coincidence by having Oliver burgle the house of Rose Maylie (Morven Christie), who later proves to be his his aunt, putting all the main characters in the same London household makes the whole plot too contrived. I understand that it saves money on finding and filming at different locations, but the whole point of the adaptation should be to make the best version of the original as possible, not write something second-rate. As proof of this, in the novel, Monks throws the necklace and ring into the river and does not carry incriminating evidence around with him. He may be dangerous, but he’s not completely stupid.

Fagin (Timothy Spall) and Sikes (Tom Hardy) underneath the arches

Tom Hardy as Sikes is good but somehow lacks the brooding physicality I normally associate with the role. He’s somehow mellow and capable of peaceful moments whereas Robert Newton or Oliver Reed managed to remain fearsome all the time. This rather undercuts the emotional force when he murders Nancy. Although the wandering around in the woods only to end up back in London is not untrue to the melodramatic original, the implication he would commit suicide in a sewer pursued by her ghost is out of character. The original accidental death as he’s pursued by the Bow Street Runners across the rooftops is far better. He would never willingly give up. Worse, he would never carry Oliver back to London after the failed burglary. I suppose it makes for good television to have Nancy nurse him back to health, but this is forced from the decision to have Sikes rescue him. Although it’s strange the Maylies would call in a doctor to treat the wounded Oliver, that’s what Charles Dickens preferred with the rehabilitation of the boy followed by the illness of Rose.

Sophie Okonedo as Nancy

Watching the Artful Dodger grow up is done well. Having him inherit Bullseye and stalk off into the crowds after the hanging is a nice touch.

This Fagin is not really a criminal gang-master but a rather broken-down fence, easily intimidated by Sikes and his ilk. The lair is well-appointed with beds and Fagin does a good breakfast for the boys. Unlike earlier versions, this Fagan also seems to feel some sympathy for Oliver. In short, he doesn’t seem bad enough. Which leads me to a final note of bemusement. In this adaptation, the trial of Fagin offers him the chance to avoid hanging if he converts to Christianity. This is not in the original text and I find myself unable to understand why this note of anti-Semitism should have been introduced.

So this version of Oliver Twist is good in part, but fundamentally undercut by the central performances of Timothy Spall as Fagin and Edward Fox as a completely wooden Brownlow. Insofar as they are intended to be binary opposites, the view of Fagin offering Oliver sausages for breakfast is just too much like the gesture you might expect at the hand of Mr Brownlow. Sadly, the production is let down by the script and some of the decisions taken by Coky Giedroyc as director. If only the team had taken off its rose-tinted glasses, we would have had a better view of the London Dickens was describing.

Thunderer by Felix Gilman

June 30, 2009 1 comment

I have written book blurbs. It’s a mildly diverting game to capture the essence of a book and sell it to potential customers in the shortest possible number of words. The trick is to reassure potential readers that their money will be well-spent. So every book becomes the latest novel channelling Tolkien, Enid Blyton or some other literary heavyweight. As a recent experiment, I asked a question on LinkedIn, “If The Waste Land is a below-par gardening manual and Portnoy’s Complaint is about a diner who gets a poor meal in a five star restaurant, which works of literature do you find inspiring?” It was intriguing to find that half the answers were serious recommendation of favourite books. Obviously, any descriptive reference to a work of literature is potentially true and people “trust” what they see in print.

Most recently, I observed the adjective “Dickensian” rolled out in support of Thunderer by Felix Gilman. Perhaps it’s a reaction to time spent in school when I was forced to read him as a literary giant of the Victorian Age. Coming to an author out of choice always predisposes you to think better of him or her (until the reality of the reading overcomes initial optimism). As a rebellious teen, the well of resentment rose with buckets of scorn to pour over the teacher’s choice. As a social commentator, I concede that Dickens was reassuringly preoccupied with the problems of his age. But his prose style was often overwrought and the narrative shaped to the dictates of episodic publication. Although stated simply, the plots and their characters achieve some degree of timeless universality, they are mired in the language and sentimentality of his times. I have enjoyed some of the more modern BBC television adaptations. But, as someone to read with modern sensibilities, I do not recommend him.

Coming to the Thunderer, the plot may be stated simply. A man on a quest to find the voice of his god comes to a great city and, after some difficulties, manages to save the city from a great danger and, incidentally, stays hopeful that he will ultimately find what he is looking for. This takes some 527 pages. Let’s clear the decks for action. I am not against long books. All I ask is that the length is used constructively for driving the narrative forward. Thus, if a work is full of incident, I am prepared to accept a reasonable amount of background information to offer colour and context for these excitements. But this book is full of the worst kind of padding. We have a multiple point-of-view narrative structure with sequential chunks of text devoted to each major character. This is standard and the usual convention is that time starts to run at the first page and then continues sequentially or with some overlap until the last page when some or all of the characters have met and served their purpose as fixed by the author. In Aristotelian terms, this gives us unity of time and place as the author moves towards a logical (and, sometimes, moral) conclusion.

In this case, the primary protagonist is called Arjun and the first chapter enjoys unity of time as key players react to the arrival of a magical bird over the city where all the significant action occurs. Except the second chapter is largely Arjun’s backstory, simply dropped into the middle of the narrative as a lump of exposition. All of this content could have been slowly drawn out of Arjun as he meets different people in the city and explains why he has come. But this sets an unfortunate trend. Whenever we meet someone new or visit another part of the city, we get these information dumps. In the “good old days”, we praised most world builders, making exceptions for the obsessives like Tolkien whose interminable ramblings have been immortalised in uncountable numbers of posthumous books capturing his notes. But this modern drive to satisfy the apparent desire of readers to get “value for money” is leading to grossly overwritten texts. It is a reversion, but of the wrong type. The reason why Dickens put in so much background is because he had a word target to meet for each episode. So rather than rushing the plot to its conclusion (killing Little Nell had to be delayed as long as possible), he dallied in the descriptions and so maintained his income stream over the maximum possible number of instalments. The bean counters in charge of modern publishing houses also want the maximum number of words for the buck, regardless of the quality of those words.

The result is a book that could have been interesting if an editor had hacked away the unnecessary text. It is a work of metaphors. The city is mutable, shifting and changing its nature through space and time. At any one location, one might meet people out of time or from the future. It all depends on how you look. In this unmappable city lurk supernatural beings and those who would exploit or benefit from their power. Jack becomes a symbol of anarchic freedom. Arlandes becomes a symbol of raw oppression invested with tragic impotence. Then there is Holbach whose intellectualism marginalises his access to power and Shay whose various machinations destabilise the existing order of things. Among all these cyphers walks Arjun who vaguely follows the dictates of his quest until he is diverted by the appearance of a pestilent threat to the city. Frankly, I didn’t care very much what happened. The threat uncoils slowly and without much sense of menace. It kills people in increasing numbers, but that is it. It is perfunctory, a mere plot device because there must be something for Arjun to confront as a delaying tactic in the pursuit of his grail. The resolution is neither victory nor defeat. It is an ending in the sense that a cul-de-sac is an ending and so brings us to the end of this first instalment of journey in what will turn out to be a trilogy or more. Dickens would have approved of this device as a means of selling more books.

For reviews of other books by Felix Gilman, see:
Gears of the City
The Half-Made World
The Revolutions
The Rise of Ransom City.

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

June 29, 2009 3 comments

Following in the footsteps of David Copperfield, you should continue reading to find out whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by somebody else.

But, just in case you’re of a nervous disposition, I’m the eponymous author of this piece, so be reassured. I survived to the end otherwise I couldn’t have written as much as I did before I (was) stopped. Ain’t no-one who can chop logic better than me (or something).

In this, I’m following the general trend in modern fiction. Most stories with an “adventure” element promise from the outset that the main characters are almost certainly going to survive whatever is thrown at them (like the cat in Ridley Scott’s Alien). If the authors want to introduce tension and suspense, the tried and tested tactic is to build up empathy between the readers and the most favoured characters. Thus, when they are exposed to the threat of injury or death, we can feel the vicarious thrill of danger. Escapes by the skin of teeth generate the “white-knuckle” quality that makes a good thriller. If the authors can’t manage a real sense of danger then they have to fall back on wit or satire or something else that will engage our interest and make us want to read to the feel-good ending of hero/heroine triumphant. There are, of course, famous exceptions where the author cheats and the hero/heroine dies. Sometimes, this happens in a first-person narrative which increases the shock value when we read the last page.

A different exception to the general rule crops up in some time travel stories where the authors happily maim or kill off lead characters in one version of history because they can be continued uninjured in sequential or parallel timelines depending on whether history is retrospectively changed (and no-one remembers) or multiple universes are created (as in the TV series Sliders). An example of mutable timelines is Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus where a small group of time travellers make sequential attempts to change history for the better. The alternative is the assumption that the timeline cannot be changed (as in the Company novels by Kage Baker). The best known example I can give you to explain why never to write a book based on this proposition is probably J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s about as exciting as watching paint dry because, having struggled through the overblown first version of history, you then get to read it all over again as the “hero” loops round to ensure that what was predestined actually results.

All of which brings me to The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman (Berkley, August, 2007). Joe (sorry about the familiarity, but I need to distinguish brother Jack) is getting a little long in the tooth. In conventional PR-speak he’s an “old pro” or a “veteran”, having first leapt into prominence with Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Forever War in 1975 — a triumph that should never go out of print. His approach to writing is simple and uncomplicated, telling the story in a straightforward way with little embellishment. This directness works really well when the plot moves along. Unfortunately, this latest effort is genuinely pedestrian. Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with pedestrians. They lurk forlorn in the corner of our eyes as we swish past in our gas guzzlers. But, in a different way, Joe is following a genuine favourite of mine, Jack Vance. The young Vance was full of passion and imaginative fire, and reading almost all his books is a delight. But that delight peters out when we come to what I assume will be his last book, Lurulu. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a perfectly readable book. But it’s not a good advertisement for Vance. Similarly, Joe’s latest book is a big disappointment with his simple prose now wooden and lifeless.

Joe is peddling the saga of a young researcher as he hops forward through time. Structurally, time travel is simply a narrative excuse to jump from one culture to another, much as Swift pushed Gulliver into meeting people of varying size, avoiding uncultured Yahoos and inquiring whether sunbeams could be extracted from cucumbers. Swift was, of course, writing a satire which might continue in a cycle with Wells’ The Time Machine, detour via Huxley’s Brave New World, and end with Sheckley’s The Status Civilization. Wells tells us a straight-laced allegorical story about innocence and Morlocks. Huxley creates a dystopia of genetic manipulation which produces a sterile, drug-based, caste-ridden society. And Sheckley gives us another of his rollicking over-the-top satires. In short, the writer’s motive for introducing cultures that contrast with our own is to hold up a mirror to edify, amaze or amuse us.

So what does Joe offer us here? Well, the two pivotal episodes are religious and economic. As to religion, early writers like Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis set the bar high, closely followed by individual classics like Blish’s A Case of Conscience, Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, etc. but Joe seems content to dally with the notion of a new Church Militant, prepared to cast the first missile and smite the unbelievers in a restoration of an archaic Puritanism. Given the polarisation in the USA between believers and non-believers, I can understand that such a theme may have a certain contemporary resonance, but the delivery is curiously unconvincing. We’re given little more than a flat description of what our hero sees with no explanation or rumination to enliven the proceedings.

In the second set-piece, we’re in a culture based on barter. Telling it straight, one of the best writers of economic SF was Mack Reynolds, always prepared to extrapolate albeit with slightly naive political overtones. Personally, I prefer to laugh and so love Dario Fo’s theatrical farces like Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay in which a protest over shop prices has unexpected consequences. But the big comparison is with one of the best fictional barter societies — another delightful satire, Spondulix by Paul Di Filippo, where the owner of a sandwich shop inadvertently invents a new currency. Sadly, Joe doesn’t measure up.

One of the worst things that can ever happen to a book is that it lacks momentum. In the barter sequence, the society is managed by an AI character called La. “She” describes the people as  “. . .complacent and rather stupid. . . addicted to comfort and stability”. Later explaining, “This is one boring world.” Was ever an admission so ironic from an author supposed to be interested in keeping us amused?

In short, this is a competent book that goes through the motions of a time loop because that’s how plots of this kind have to work. But, instead of maintaining interest with subversive wit, boundless imagination and a satirical eye, we get descriptions of societies that even the author admits are boring. If you haven’t done so already, read the early Joe Haldeman. The man genuinely deserves his royalties for past glories rather than for this current effort.

Hey, guess what? I survived to the end of this episode. Next week, I’ve scheduled a heart attack during a visit from my mother-in-law. You’ll have to read on to find out whether I can be bothered to survive. Hopefully, I’ll find a better book to read in the meantime.

For reviews of other books by Joe Haldeman, see:
Earthbound
Work Done For Hire.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss

There’s a hoary old cliché about football (the Beckham style — Victoria if you prefer your games spicy) that it’s a game of two halves.  Anyway, this game began with me reading a brick by a new author who’s being touted as the next big thing to hit publishing. So, here it is, folks: The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss (Daw, April, 2007). Frankly, I don’t usually even try to pick up books this big. The risks of damaging a wrist tendon are significant. Nevertheless, I laid this on my lap and opened it, finding a mere 672 pages. Daunted, I began reading, expecting it to be torture peine fort et dure so that I could rescue myself by replacing it on the shelf (it being more sturdy than I).

So the first half of the game is the plot. Imagine taking every boarding school component from Charles Dickens to Enid Blyton to J.K. Rowling. We’re going to start our boy off in the “school” as a penniless orphan, but make him very bright. He’s quickly going to fall foul of a rich kid and start a feud. The staff will be ambivalent about him but, when he shows ability, quickly progress him through the ranks. Think Hogwarts because this “University” teaches magical skills to those who show promise. And why Dickens? Well, our boy is going to start off happy up to the age of eleven and then fall on hard times which, like Oliver Twist, forces him on to the streets as a beggar. I could go on but I think you’ll have the message by now.

And, to make it worse, the character development lacks any real credibility. Let’s start with a quote from Abenthy, the arcanist who begins to teach him basic skills, “He will leave his mark on the world as one of the best. . . [at] whatever he chooses.” So this boy is already outstanding and will only get better. Next, let’s accept the reality of the trauma caused by the death of his parents. As an aside, the reason for his survival is “obscure”. He is at the mercy of ruthless killers who are intent of removing everyone who had heard the song about Lanre and who could literally kill him in the time taken to speak one word. No matter who or what is coming, his death should be inevitable. There are better ways of managing a scene both to show the young hero the reality of what he is going to be up against when he seeks revenge and to treat readers as having intelligence.

Naturally, as a survivor, he goes first into a fugue and then a feral state, living wild and with no real application of will or intelligence. But, mere survival goes on too long and his transformation back to bright kid is so instantaneous, you wonder why he was ever so depressed in the first place. Worse, when he gets to the University, he excels using skills taught to him by Abenthy when he was a happy camper even though they have lain completely unused ever since, but he fails to exploit his musical and acting abilities to earn some money which makes him look breathtakingly stupid all over again. My first conclusion is that this behaviour is dictated by the misplaced desire to pad out the text (which is too long already).

But we could conjure a different explanation for this total lack of credibility. Perhaps the narrator is unreliable (see Wayne C Booth The Rhetoric of Fiction for the theory and “The History of a Self-Tormentor” in Little Dorrit for an example). The structure of the book allows for this. We start off with our hero as an innkeeper. A “news hound” tracks him down and asks for his story which he then proceeds to tell. It’s a narrative within a narrative with breaks for food and interruptions as drinking (and other) company joins them in the inn. Since the hero is telling his own story, he could have a motive for presenting a less than honest appraisal of himself and his background that is not yet apparent to us. Although why he should want us readers to think him so stupid is currently beyond me. Alternatively, as his companion Bast says, if people around him think him a hero, that’s how he acts. The natural corollary is that he’ll tell his story as a loser if that’s how he now thinks of himself. In his own words, he’s telling the story of his “triumphs and follies” with the emphasis on the latter. So the form is the story he tells is not consciously driven, but simply comes out in the least flattering way. Hmmm, I’m not really convincing myself here!

So, if your primary motivation for reading a chunky novel is to find an engaging narrative, forget it. This is unoriginal, annoyingly unconvincing and full of plot whose only purpose is probably to produce this “epic” length.

Half time — after a quick shower and a pep talk from the manager we come back out on to the field with the writing.

The writing?

What can I say? This is a first novel, but it’s one of the best written books I’ve read so far this year! Add in the fact that it’s high fantasy which is very easy to get wrong, and it becomes all the more impressive a debut. Even seasoned professionals can go hyperbolic and ruin the atmosphere of a fantasy with overwritten prose. But this author manages to avoid the standard pitfalls and has produced a beautifully mannered style, peppered with interesting flashes of intelligence and wit. The leitmotif running through the book is silence. An individual may fall into silence, there may be a companionable silence between friends, there is silence as a portent of threat, and so on.

It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

or

Thus it was that three students made their slightly erratic way back to the University. See them as they go, weaving only slightly. It is quiet, and when the belling tower strikes the late hour, it doesn’t break the silence so much as it underpins it. The crickets, too, respect the silence. Their calls are like careful stitches in its fabric, almost too small to be seen.

or

. . .the innocent silence that had gathered like a clear pool around the three men was beginning to darken into a silence of a different kind.

Anchoring the tone of the book in silence is a clever metaphorical ploy. Words spoken break the silence. Words written do not. What is it, then, that fills the silence that threatens to envelop every one of us? Physically, we can be lonely if no-one speaks to us. We can be alienated if we are ignored or people say the wrong things (by our standards), or secretive if we are not forthcoming. Internally, our past is the narrative that informs our future if we hear what it’s trying to tell us. And therein lies the rub because we need to be listening to ourselves. What? We need to be talking to ourselves and listening. Oy veh! Surely, silence is us taking a break from all those painful emotions that are messing up our lives. But the silence is also an invitation to start a conversation. Or as a metaphor, silence is the warp to the weft of sound, and the resulting crossweave is what fills our lives and gives it shape. So it is, then, that the hero of this book uses words to say how he has lived his life, or not, because what he does not say is just as important as what he does say. Indeed, sometimes his silences are more informative than what he claims as truth.

So does this combination of two halves make this a good book?

Well, not really. The plot is so deeply flawed that I don’t think the author can recover the situation by pretty writing. But the overall effect is to encourage me to want to read more. This is his first published book. We can forgive him (if not his editor) for turning in a beginner’s book. As he develops, he can only get better (at least, we can hope so). The next book in the series is due out in the new year and I’ve already asked my bookseller to lay in a copy for me as and when the publisher releases it into the wild. I’m also trying to channel Charles Atlas to learn how to build up my muscles so that I can pick it up safely when it arrives.

For my review of the next in the series, see Wise Man’s Fear.

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