Monday, 27 March 2017

Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A different take on the World war.

With the 100th anniversary of the WW1 celebrated last year, a lot of BBC dramas, stories on that period came out, to commemorate the event.

Having seen a couple of those, I had some preconceived notions about what to expect from this WW11 story.  Cleave was an established writer and the jacket compared the book to Atonement. When you read that kind of statement, you can imagine my curiosity regarding the book.

Apparently the author was heavily influenced by his grandparents and letters that he found about the World war. The author's note offers great insight into how titbits of informaton were woven into the novel.

My motivation for picking up the book, were the opening lines:

War was declared at 11.45 and Mary North signed up at noon. She did it, at lunch, before the telegrams came, in case her mother said no.

As a student of the craft who treasures opening lines, it really tops the list of some of the best I have read in recent times.

Gist:

Mary North leaves her finishing school and signs up as a teacher instead.

Tom Shaw doesn't think the war is going to last. He chooses to opt out and work in the
education authority instead.

Alistair Heath signs up as a soldier and is sent to Malta,  altering his outlook and life.

Three young people caught up in one of the most turbulent times recorded in English history. They are young and naive but remain neither, by the end of it all. Do they still carry the optimism of a young generation or does the war make them war weary and cynical?

What works:
  • The title. I found it too long and puzzling but by the time I got to the end, it made sense. My favourite lines:
I was brought up to believe everyone brave is forgiven but in wartime, courage is cheap and clemency is out of season. 
  • The love for the city. There are some beautiful lines that define the beauty of the city.
London was a lightening of the sky. It was the bloody last hour of the milk tooth. It was a city dying to begin. 
  • The so-called  high society attitudes
Society was not complicated after all. One only had to follow one's first name from the table plan to the wedding banns and all the way through to the tombstone.
  • The use of humour. I loved the banter between Hilda and Mary and then the letters between Mary and Alistair. The dark, cruel side of the war is blunted a bit with the use of humour flowing through the novel.
  • The multicultural fabric of the city taking its roots among racist attitudes.
Flat rubble waited for them in the far bank of the river. Rubble to build on caught no one's attention but theirs. It did not catch the light, having no promise but what they brought with them.
  • What I also liked is how it sheds light on the the dark side of evacuation - discriminating between who could go and couldn't
What doesn't:
  • Action follows very subtly and quickly. After reading a long description about how the characters feel or the city is turning into ruins, the plot moves forward without warning. Perhaps that is a stylistic thing, but as a reader, it took some getting used to.
  • There were times when the pace seemed to lag a bit and attention meandering. However, that did not deter me from enjoying the structure and the writing style. That alone kept me going till the end. 
Overall, a great piece of writing. It is not your average read, so quick-read, plot oriented book lovers may well steer clear. But for those who love to savour and linger over paragraphs, relish that aftertaste of reading good prose, well, this one's bound to tickle your taste buds.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Lie With Me - Sabrine Durrant

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
Tight storyline, complex characters make this an enjoyable read.

The pink letters against a background of bottle green are such an eye catcher. To be honest, it was that which drew me to it. The premise is vague yet compelling. I loved the evasive summary particularly, arousing interest without saying much.

Durrant is a journalist and author with a couple of novels under her belt. I had never read her previous novels but a quick search told me how talented she  is. I just loved her 140 character story for the Guardian twitter challenge.

Gist:

Paul Morris, a one novel success, is happily drifting through life when he meets an old friend Andrew Hopkins. A chance meeting leads to a dinner party and then a holiday with his family in Greece. Morris, who till now managed to have no strings attached suddenly finds himself entangled in a set of relationships which threatens to burst his bubble and confront his past.

What works:
  • The story works right from the outset. The slimy, narcisstic narrator who is honest, yet cavalier is finally etched. It is hard to like this character and yet you are curious to know what happened to him.
  • The entire novel rests on this one character. He is a one time success, yet a current failure. He is the intellectual snob who is good at dinner party conversations but not trustworthy. With lie after another, he works himself into a complex web of deceit.
  • The other characters of Alice and Andrew were well etched out too. The tension buildup as the story went on was palpable and keeps you guessing and reading on. 
  • I can see it easily as a movie. I am sure with the right actors to play the character, it will be much better than some of the thrillers that have made it to the screen.
What doesn't:
  • Hardly anything. It works at all levels. It had me hooked and though I was reading another literary novel at the time, it forced me to put it aside and get to the end to reveal the suspense.
An excellent thriller, a brilliant read to perk up the spring day.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Granchester Mysteries - Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation

A breezy set of crime stories set in an English village.

I received this book as part of goodreads giveaway in return for an honest review.

I heard seen the itv programme and so was excited about the books.
I enjoyed it for its Father Brown type central character, but his handsome and young version. Being a character driven person, for me, a good mystery must have the important ingredient: detective with a distinct persona.


Gist:

A set of crime short stories set in Granchester. Sidney Chambers, the local vicar with a nose for investigation, always gets into it and helps Geordie Keating on the case. However, there are times when his objectivity is called into question, particularly when it it involves people close to him. Does he rise above it or falls prey to it?

 What works:
  • These are not drawn out mysteries but short stories that gives you a flavour of the small village. Living in a village myself, I can relate to how the community works and it is delightful to see it represented in fiction.
  • Runcie displays a keen understanding of the human mind and also of Chambers. Loosely based on his dad who served in the army and then became a clergyman, this detective is shown in shades of grey. Loved the complexity of it.
What doesn't:
  • I had seen the programme before and the storyline is a bit different to the book. The relationship between the characters is not how it was shown in the TV. That confused me a bit. However, once I saw it as a different story, it was a lot easier.
  • The format. Although they are nice to dip into, they do not have the compelling edge of a taut crime story. The writing is leisurely with musings on human behaviour. However, it does not give you that terse feel of action.  
  • It is a nice one to dip in and out. It is great for that lazy read, when you do not want the demands of a tightly written story, instead want something to relax with. But I found my attention wandering. The style was too meandering for me.
It reminds one of afternooon, one hour crime dramas. Entertaining but without the bite. 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Suitable Vengence - Elizabeth George

www.goodreads.com
A vivid, layered, atmospheric tale.

The book jacket does justice to the plot. The waves hitting the cliffs is quite reflective of Cornwall. In fact that is how I visualised it as well when I was reading the story.

George is a favourite and I have read nearly all of her novels and even re-read some in a attempte to study the technique. I still remember how my first novel of her : In the Presence of the Enemy. Her deft handling of plot and the characters were very impressive. The story stayed with me until much later and then I started hunting down her works and devouring them all.

This is one of the earlier novels in the Lynley-Havers series. The duo have not become work partners yet. The other characters St James, Deborah and Lady Helen are very much present. It is interesting to see how they are at an interesting stage and how the dynamics of the relationship shifts and evolves to form new liasons.

Gist:

Lynley and Deborah are in Cornwall with their close friends, St James and Lady Helen to celebrate Lynley's engagement with Deborah. However, where these characters get together, there has to be a murder nearby and that is what happens. A journalist is killed and since he happens to be the husband of the daughter of their employee, Lynley feels compelled to step in with his team and investigate.

Soon another murder is reported. This time it strikes closer home and brings Lynley's personal issues to fore: a troubled relationship with his Mother and a stormy relationship with his brother

Lynley must deal with them before it embroils them all further more in a tangled mess that bears a painful connection to the murder.

What works:
  • The characters are like old friends. I know I have said this before but then that is how it feels . It was interesting to see how the dynamics of the relationship is formed here and later shifts.
  • The plot. It is like picking up a thread buried in the sand and then lifting it up and following the trail. The narrative is so fluid and smooth, with no jerky movements or past/ present shifts in time.
What doesn't:
  • The trouble with George is that she can be too detailed. It takes the zing out of the story, slacking the pace. There are some middle bits which are a bit sagging, putting demands on the reader to stick with it.
Overall, a good read. Perhaps not as good as some of the others. But the characters are there and the twists are interesting. 

Thumbs up.




Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
An intriguing title, a superb protagnist but then the interest fizzles out.

I had heard a lot of the book. The first page is full of great reviews and it did a lot to liven up my expectations. Alas, it did not deliver as promised, despite an impressivelyl packaged cover and premise.

The cover does draw you in. "How do you solve a mystery when you can't remember the clues?" That coupled with the fact that the person solving is a 82-year-old dementia patient is enough to pique average curiosity and mine was no different. It was a shame it did not sustain till the end.

Gist:

Maud is 82 years old with dementia. She cannot remember anything and is looked after by her daughter and carers. However in her muddled up state, she has one clear memory of a friend Elizabeth, who she worked with at Oxfam. Something is gnawing at her and she determined that Elizabeth is in trouble. She has been ridiculed for her attempts to call the family but she hellbent on finding out where she is.

Simultaneously, the story shifts to a wartime scenario where Maud's younger self is living with her family and something happens that changes the family forever.

The past shows a young, impressionable Maud who witnessing something, she is unable to make sense of. At some point, the past and the present collide. It finally gives meaning to Maud's present, senile existence.

What works:
  • Healey inhabits 82 year old senile mindset so well. It is so easy to associate and empathise with the confused character who has no bearings of herself. It is a brilliant portrayal and I loved it for that reason alone. 
  • The wartime narrative though is interesting, I found myself waiting for the present narrative which had lots of interesting characters such as the daughter Helen and her grand daughter. 
What doesn't:
  • I found the wartime narrative boring and although there was a sense of whodunnit to it, it seemed stretched out. Some solid editing would have tightened the piece up.
I am not sure if it was the hype that put me off or if it was the story. The story starts off well and I loved the protagnist but then it did not last long and there was a sense of "how long till it comes together". 

An OK read but a very interesting protagnist. For that reason alone, it is worth a read, I would say.