Thursday, 23 February 2017
A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together like a puppet, nicknamed by the press as the 'ragdoll'.
Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William 'Wolf' Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.
The 'Ragdoll Killer' taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.
With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?
Well, books don't come much more anticipated than this one! The hype for "Ragdoll" began at least 3 months ago and the excitement for its publication have been building ever since! Early reviews are amazing; author Rachel Abbott claims it is the best debut she's ever read and MJ Arlidge compares it to the iconic film Se7en. The marketing campaign has been impressively high profile and this is possibly one of the most talked about books on social media this month.
So does it live up to the hype?
Yes, I think it does!
The opening prologue completely took me by surprise. It starts with the Jury filing back in to court. Although the case sounds very grim (understatement), I thought Cole was following the standard form. I thought I was following one particular character and was expecting one particular outcome but suddenly events - well, they don't exactly spiral out of control so much as leap up and literarily knock you over! The opening pages capture one of the most unexpected and uncharacteristic scenes I've ever witnessed in a court room!
Leap forward four years and Cole continues with Chapter One, continuing to surprise us with characters who are not afraid to test the conventions of their genre. The main Detective is named Wolf Fawkes which automatically triggers connotations in the reader's mind. I also liked TV reporter Andrea and the risks she takes with the information she has - very very gripping opening pages!
Cole is a bold, fresh voice who has written a story that is violent, gritty, dark and absolutely not for the faint hearted! It's a lot more graphic than the crime thrillers I usually read but despite this it's difficult to put the book down. The pages almost turn themselves with Cole's vivid, lively, dynamic prose and his authentic dialogue that brings the characters to life and makes them larger than the pages which try to contain them.
The chapter headings increase the tension and pace of the novel by announcing the day and time. I was immediately intrigued by how the chapters followed on each other - starting at 4.30am and then moving on through the day, sometimes by a matter of minutes to 4.32am and sometimes longer like 12.10. This is a brilliant technique. The sense of a countdown, an anticipation of a climatic finale, a sense of chase and urgency can only make you want to read on. I'm also a fan of these sorts of headings as it does help you keep track of any changes in the chronology of events or dual timelines. Well, that's if I remember to read them properly in my impatience to get on to the next chapter!
It very much reads like a film - which is no surprise as it started off as screenplay and the TV rights have been already snapped up. It will make a fantastic film. It is a great debut and will be highly successful.
"Ragdoll" is published by Trapeze on the 23rd February 2017.
At 33 years old, Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic, an RSPCA officer and most recently for the RNLI, driven by an intrinsic need to save people or perhaps just a guilty conscience about the number of characters he kills off in his writing.
He has received a three-book publishing and television deal for his debut crime series which publishers and producers describe as “pulse-racing” and “exceptional”.
Daniel currently lives in sunny Bournemouth and can usually be found down the beach when he ought to be writing book two in the Nathan Wolfe series instead.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter @Daniel_P_Cole
Find out more about "Ragdoll"- including lots of other reviews of the book -by following Ben Willis on twitter : @BenWillisUK @orionbooks
Here is an article from the Guardian from last April anticipating the phenomenon of "Ragdoll":
the guardian - exparamedic wins three book and tv deal
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
Love Them and Leave Them is a story of love, families, friendship and a world of possibilities. Whichever decision Ed makes, the same people are destined to come into his daughter’s life, sometimes in delightfully different ways. And before they can look forward to the future, they will all have to deal with the mistakes of the past.
Jessica, in both versions, is a character who the reader will warm to immediately. Ed's decision has huge ramifications for her - in one version, devastatingly so. In another, although everything seems to be perfect, there are trials and tribulations in store for Jessica and that journey of self discovery still has to be taken. Her relationship with her father is very convincing and very moving in both accounts.
There were a few moments when I felt Barrister Jessica's life was a little bit too good to be true, but there are underlying tensions revealed as we get to see a bit more of her relationship with her boyfriend Nick. I loved Shepherd's analogy of how the two characters eat their meals to encapsulate so perfectly the difference between them.
I was intrigued by the storyline. Initially I was concerned that following Jessica through two different versions of events might become confusing - particularly when their worlds begin to collide in such a unexpected manner but not at any point at all did I get in a muddle or forget who was who, which story I was involved in or who was doing what in that particular moment. Shepherd manages her plot effortlessly and seamlessly.
This book is a gentle read. It's entertaining and Shepherd has a pleasing turn of phrase. Although it is a reasonably light read, it is not without moments of poignancy, shock, sadness and drama. The characters come to life and the dynamics between them are believable. I enjoyed the challenge that Shepherd set in making me really think about the characters as we see them behaving in different situations. I did change my mind a few times about some of them!
Shepherd explores a lot of interesting themes about friendship, parenthood, responsibility, success, love, happiness and fate. All great universal themes which any reader will enjoy contemplating. All in all this is a very satisfying read.
I'm going to leave you with some quotes from the end that I thought captured the essence of the novel as well as generally being very good advice for all of us, whichever stage of our journey we are on and whichever version of life we are traveling:
Don't miss the rest of the BLOG TOUR for LOVE THEM AND LEAVE THEM
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
I am a big fan of Tracy Chevalier. "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" was one of my most favourite reads when it came out and I remember being quite overwhelmed with Chevalier's prose and evocative description. I have read all her books to date - except the short stories collection she edited called "Reader I Married Him" -which I bought in hardback but it still sits next to my bed, ever hopeful that one night I might actually have the chance to pick it up! But each of her novels is a treat and I always have a huge sense of anticipation before I read one, bracing myself for a journey through a rich landscape of well crafted, imaginative worlds. I love her historical detail, depiction of place and setting, female characters and the intensity of her writing.
"At the Edge of the Orchard" does not disappoint and yet again Chevalier rewards us with a beautifully crafted story full of poignancy and drama, all told through her mesmerising narrative voice.
This novel is starts off in 1838 in Ohio. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the swamps of northwest Ohio, trying to cultivate the fifty apple trees required in order to stake their claim on the property. It has not been an easy job in the misery of the "Black Swamp, with its stagnant water, its stench of rot and mild, its thick black mud that even scrubbing couldn't get out of skin and cloth." The Goodenoughs have five children and all of them work relentlessly trying to tame the land and grow a successful orchard. The depiction of their existence is brutal and hard. I could feel the squelch of the mud around me and the never ending chores that seemed to yield them so little reward.
Life is brutal and not surprisingly this is an unhappy family. Sadie drinks and disassociates herself from things when she is able. We hear from her in alternate chapters (the others narrated in third person following James's point of view) and although the lack of punctuation takes a little getting used to, Chevalier has created a very vivid and compelling voice.
"I never wanted to live in the Black Swamp. Who would? It aint a name that draws you in. You get stuck there, more like - stuck in the mud and cant go no further, so you stay cause theres land and no people, which is what we were looking for."
Sadie's passages felt so real it was as if I could hear her talking. And I could see why she felt bitterness, resentment, frustration - and even why she drank.
"I hear theres land out west thats got no trees on it at all. Prairie. Lord send me there."
The whole family have suffered great hardship as they try to build a life for themselves in the depths of the sinking swamp and it is no surprise that Sadie and the children have become the way they are. It was really interesting to read about such detached and disaffected children - so young and yet so tainted. The emotional affect the environment has on their lives, children, interaction with each other and their own moods is fascinating.
"Sal shrugged, a gesture she used often. Even aged twelve she had learned that it was no good caring about things too much, and she held the world at an arm's length."
Robert is perhaps the most likeable character in the novel and is certainly the most calm and thoughtful. I really enjoyed the section where he met William Lobb and began to get involved with the naturalist's work.
"Q," Robert repeated, "What's that?"
"A botanical garden outside of London - the finest in the world."
Robert is perplexed by why Lobb is sending samples of the trees and plants back to England - "Don't they have trees in England?" - but soon finds himself intrigued by the work and developing a passion and interest for the research and preparation of the collections which then travel to London.
But can he ever fully rebuild a new life for himself? Can he escape the reason he left home in the first place?
There is a beautiful sense of claustrophobia and inevitability when Robert reaches the ocean which reflects the atmosphere of the novel. Chevalier has such an exquisite way with words that she is able to convey so much emotion, rawness and magnitude with just a few sentences.
"Robert's awe of the sight of the ocean was joined by an undertow of sadness. He had reached the end of the country, and was as far from Ohio as he could get; he could go no further. The thought of having to turn around and face east filled him with such guilt and despair that he felt sick with it."
I will say no more about the plot and the characters for fear of spoilers only to say that I liked the metaphorical use of trees to help underline some of the themes in the book too.
"Trees are ruthless. They fight each other for light, for water, for all the good things that are in the ground. They survive only when they have enough space between them."
And, trees only ever need the "right place to take root." How true. And how profound in a novel about a pioneer family.
This book reminded me of "A Place Called Winter" by Patrick Gale and will be enjoyed by fans of historical fiction, literary fiction and all of Chevalier's previous novels. It was a pleasure to read and I am thrilled that NetGalley and the publishers granted my wish for an advanced copy!
At the Edge of the Orchard will be published by The Borough Press on 23rd February 2017.
19 October 1962 in Washington, DC. Youngest of 3 children. Father was a photographer for The Washington Post.
Nerdy. Spent a lot of time lying on my bed reading. Favorite authors back then: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Joan Aiken, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander. Book I would have taken to a desert island: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
BA in English, Oberlin College, Ohio, 1984. No one was surprised that I went there; I was made for such a progressive, liberal place.
MA in creative writing, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, 1994. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not you can be taught to write. Why doesn’t anyone ask that of professional singers, painters, dancers? That year forced me to write all the time and take it seriously.
Moved to London after graduating from Oberlin in 1984. I had studied for a semester in London and thought it was a great place, so came over for fun, expecting to go back to the US after 6 months to get serious. I’m still in London, and still not entirely serious. Even have dual citizenship – though I keep the American accent intact.
1 English husband + 1 English son + 1 tortoiseshell cat.
Before writing, was a reference book editor, working on encyclopedias about writers. (Yup, still nerdy.) Learned how to research and how to make sentences better. Eventually I wanted to fix my own sentences rather than others’, so I quit and did the MA.
Talked a lot about becoming a writer as a kid, but actual pen to paper contact was minimal. Started writing short stories in my 20s, then began first novel, The Virgin Blue, during the MA year. With Girl With a Pearl Earring (written in 1998), I became a full-time writer, and have since juggled it with motherhood.
You can follow me on Twitter for more recommendations and reviews @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
Amis is an author who appears to have a 'marmite' following. The mere mention of his name will trigger a discussion straight away - without even getting anywhere near talking about his actual books!
I'm embarrassed to say this is the first time I have actually read a novel by Amis. We have a few copies of his books on our shelves but I have always been a little wary of them, feeling my need to read them was more from a sense of 'literary duty' rather than for pleasure! However, I was set the "Night Train" as homework on a creative writing course and therefore I rose to the challenge - and at only 149 pages, it did not feel like an onerous task!
The opening is very compelling. The voice is direct and blunt.
"I am a police and my name is Detective Mike Hoolihan. And I am a woman also. What I am setting out here is an account of the worst case I have ever handled."
The story continues with Mike clearly laying out all the information we need for the opening of a detective novel. She tells us about herself, about the crime and the background information we need. Very quickly a clear tone of voice and style of prose is established. Mike's voice is not unpleasant, but it takes some warming to and although perhaps convincing as an american police officer, I was not entirely sold on its authenticity as a female.
Hoolihan knows the victim Jennifer Rockwell which perhaps complicates the case a little. The first part of the novel is set out in diary form and at times Hoolihan speaks directly to Jennifer as she summarises key findings of the crime scene which creates tension and makes the writing feel very vivid and full of impact.
"Jennifer, you killed yourself. It's down."
The novel is divided into three parts. Part 2 is called "Felo de se" which translates as "suicide of the felon" and here more details are unveiled about Jennifer. I liked the sub heading "The Psychological Autopsy" and Amis' exploration of suicide and the "night train" -
"Suicide is the night train, speeding your way to darkness."
There's some straight talking from Mike as she shares her knowledge and experience of suicide with a list of Don'ts. There's a lot of them and there is an edge of black humour there too. The list ends with the ominous statement:
"Don't be Jennifer Rockwell. The question is: But why not?"
I learnt a new word during Mike's interview with the professor - "consternated". I will be aiming to use it in my conversation at some point this week!
I did feel that Amis left me behind a little bit towards the end of the novel. The reader does have to pay attention, particularly with the different forms of punctuation - or lack of - employed as Amis switches between dialogue, contemplation, lists and facts. The ending left me with more questions than I had started with and I was torn between enjoying the ambiguity of it and feeling a little confused.
It was an interesting read and I am glad that I persevered with it but I think I need to read it again, and then probably again to fully absorb it. I liked aspects of the prose but I did find it a bit demanding to read this style over a sustained number of pages.
There's no doubt that Amis deserves the literary accolade he gets and there's no doubt that he is a gifted writer. There is plenty to admire in this short book and plenty to acknowledge in terms of literary fiction. I'm not sure I will pick up another of Amis's titles for a while although I would be interested to see something written from a male point of view to see how he portrays his male characters.
Night Train was published by Vintage in 1997.
Here's a great article from the Guardian (2014) which explores the author a little more and explains why Amis provokes such strong reactions from people:
theguardian - why we love to hate Martin Amis
Here's a link to the British Council website which has a comprehensive list of Amis' titles and some biographical info:
literature.britishcouncil - Martin Amis bio
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
Saturday, 18 February 2017
So I defy any body who has ever been on, or wanted to go on a girls' weekend, not to be intrigued by the premise of this novel!
Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina have been friends since school and have always tried to take a weekend break together every year but recently careers, husbands and babies have started to make it harder for them to get time together - or at least quality time that allows them to really catch up with each other.
"...an entire gathering of responsible designated drivers. Boring. No one had had a proper conversation either because each and every sentence was punctuated by 'Ruby! Share!' or 'Leif! Gentle!'"
As they finally manage to get together on their annual holiday together, Joni is desperate to find a way to bring the group back together and once again share their most intimate and deep secrets. At school they shared a diary so she suggests they each write an anonymous letter to the group, revealing their darkest secret. The letters will then be read aloud. Each of them agrees, not foreseeing how this might affect their friendship - I mean, they know everything about each other already, right?
Truth or lie? Will the women still feel able to confess their darkest secrets or will they make up something else to throw everyone wide of the reality they are not willing to share?
Will anything ever be the same again?
It is clear from the outset that there will be devastating consequences for the girls following the revelations of the weekend. The novel opens with Joni seeking the wisdom of a priest:
"I was going to talk to a psychologist. Or a psychiatrist........but they were all either booked out for weeks and weeks or [I needed] a referral....And I couldn't really wast that kind of time, besides, you don't cost anything, so that's a bonus"
And what is it she needs to confess after a weekend away with her oldest friends?
"I almost cheated on my husband. I've compromised my own morals in my work. I've betrayed my friends, I've judged my friends, I've pushed my friends to breaking point. ...."
Oh. Quite a lot. Just what went on between these women on this weekend away?
We spend the majority of the book with Joni. Joni organises the holiday and feels like she has to take control arranging any meet up. She is the "rule follower" , who always goes to the gym, is sensible, likes an early bedtime and most importantly, seems more dependent on the annual meet up than any of the others. Joni also seems to be harbouring some resentment and jealousy towards her friends as she is the only one not to have children. She blames the widening gap between them on the arrival of all the babies and the complications they bring to a social life. It also seems that she is caught up in
chasing a memory of how the friendship was. She seems unable to accept the changes and is ignoring the cracks that seem to be appearing between the characters.
She has a real issue that they "never talk properly any more," and therefore when she seizes upon the idea that they should each write a secret letter, she is excited. She thinks she has finally found "the catalyst she'd been looking for to really restore their friendship."
And so the story continues. The main narrative is broken up with dialogue between Joni and the priest which helps Joni to fill in the reader with extra detail as well as help the author pose some of the reader's questions through the priest's voice. We follow Joni's point of view throughout most of the novel although Moriarty's choice of staying in the third person does mean she can furnish us with extra insight when appropriate.
The letters all contain some revelation that affects the group dynamics. Ranging from minor confessions about things most of the characters had guessed, to confessions which are more like embarrassing secrets, to confessions which shock the friends who thought they had always been privy to every part of each others' lives.
And then there is a fifth letter. A letter that should never have been read by anyone. A letter that was swapped out at the last minute as its content is too devastating, too confessional and too full of long burning secrets. So what happens when it is found? And which of the girls wrote it?
I enjoyed reading the letters and I enjoyed reading about the girls' reactions as they tried to work out who might have written it. It was interesting to watch the dynamics of the group unravel and see that the bonds between them were not actually as concrete as they thought. Accusations, judgements, jealousy and rivalry are all rife and the relationships between the women quickly disintegrate.
This is Moriarty's debut and it is an ambitious starting point. The premise is gripping but it is a challenge to weave a tale of four backstories, four secrets, four characters with issues, while maintaining tension and suspense. It is also a real challenge to ensure the reader has plenty of empathy for the protagonists while their behaviour is scrutinised.
There were certain passages I really enjoyed - like when the narrative shows us what the characters were really doing in the recent past and why Joni might have missed it or not noticed. I think this shows us all that once we have families and a range of pressing commitments, sometimes it is hard to give friends the time they need or sometimes it is hard to ask for help. Moriarty explores a lot of questions about friendship, truth and openness.
It's perhaps not quite the novel for me but I enjoyed aspects of the storyline and was interested in the ever changing dynamics between the group. There is also a very satisfying resolution where all the loose ends are tied up and a reassuring epilogue that rounds the story off well. I think it will be a popular read and perfect for holidays or weekends - although perhaps not a girls' weekend away!!
I mean, do you know your friends well enough to share your deepest secrets with them?!
"It's a funny truth that you can never fully know everything there is to know about a person, regardless of how close you think you are. Because people will always have certain secrets that they will keep to themselves, for as long as they can."
This book is a like a good episode of 'Gossip Girl' or perhaps an episode of the UK TV series 'Mistresses'. It's chick lit and it's a fast paced, easy read with plenty of melodrama and plot twists. If you want something easy, with a balance of humour, drama, trauma and happiness then this is the book for you!
"The Fifth Letter" is published on 23rd February by Penguin.
Nicola Moriarty lives in Sydney's north west with her husband and two small daughters. She is the younger sister of bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and studying teaching at Macquarie University, she began to write. Now, she can't seem to stop.
You can follow Nicola online:
Friday, 17 February 2017
As soon as I saw that Dinah Jefferies had a new book out, I wasted no time tracking it down on NetGalley and have been looking forward to reading it ever since it landed on my TBR pile. Why? Because Jefferies always writes a great story. She always evokes the historical era and the exotic location of her novels effectively; the smells, colours and sounds come alive and transport you to another place, another time and another person's life. As well as great description there is always an absorbing story to follow full of gentle drama, romance and a personal quest of some sort. "Before the Rains" continues to deliver all we have come to love about Jefferies' books.
"Before the Rains" is set in 1930s India. Our main protagonist is Eliza; a 28 year old widow who is trying to build her career as a photojournalist. The British Government have sent her to spend a year photographing the royal family in Rajputana and she is determined to make a name for herself through this assignment. Eliza cannot help but become affected by the contrast of the wealth she is surrounded by in the castle and the poverty that exists outside.
"...she took photographs of it all: the poor, the lost and the seemingly forgotten. And it entered her head that by recording the plight of the poor she might be able to find a way to give voice to the voiceless."
She is a sensitive, thoughtful and bright woman who although there to further her career, is also moved by the living conditions she witnesses. Eliza realises that in order to change things, or support those who want to change things, could involved some huge personal compromises. It also transpires that perhaps the British Government have ulterior motives for placing her within the royal family and Eliza is caught between her loyalties to old family friends and the new family she has been living amongst.
Eliza is a great protagonist. She has been to India before as a child. The story opens with a tragic account of her watching the death of her father and I was immediately lost in Jefferies' writing as she conjured up a scene bursting with life and emotion. I was immediately drawn to Eliza's character as we quickly feel empathy towards this young woman who has witnessed the death of her father and then tragically widowed so early in her married life. Eliza is a sensitive character and this prepares us for the journey she is going to go on both physically and emotionally in this story.
Jefferies then introduces us to the royal family and establishes their values and beliefs which roots us in the social and historical setting as well as establishing the family dynamics, including lots of implied tension- the perfect foundation for a good story.
Eliza is introduced to Jayant Singh Rathore - Jay - Laxmi's "second and most wayward son." His mother describes him as "thirty years old, addicted to danger and prefers the wild to us civilised folk. Hardly any wonder he's not married yet" and he is a character that immediately interests us. He begins to spend more time with Eliza, particularly by accompanying her on her excursions, and the couple begin to educate each other about the injustices that they see from their different positions in society. A bond develops between them but this is not a relationship that is going to be easily accepted by their families and their communities. Once again, Eliza is faced with dilemmas and that age old problem around which so many great books revolve - to follow your head or your heart?
But this is not just a love story or a novel about the awakening of Eliza after the heartbreak she has already suffered. This is a novel about women and about history, about culture and traditions. There are some brutal scenes where Eliza witnesses the mistreatment of widows - deemed unlucky as "outliving your husband means you did not look after him properly and that's generally your own bad karma at fault." The moment when Eliza witnesses the barbaric burning of a widow is violently chilling and Jefferies handles these scenes cleverly; neither sensational nor gratuitous but shocking and haunting. Of course these scenes also heighten the tension as Eliza is a widow and this has to be hidden from anyone who doesn't need to know in order to protect her and the family she is residing with. Again, as with all of Jefferies' novels, I find myself learning more about a period in history I know little about.
There is a lot about the plight of the women in this country at this time. Jefferies' thorough research and obvious interest in this subject is reflected through her characterisation of Eliza and what happens to her throughout the course of the novel. There are some disturbing passages about infanticide and sad revelations about the wives who are so badly treated by their in laws as they struggle for authority and power in their marriages and families. This emotive and controversial theme gives the novel depth and adds a layer of complexity to the relationship between Jay and Eliza as they begin to recognise their feelings for each other.
I don't want to write a long review - not because I can't, but because this book is simply a good story with enough layers, themes and engaging characters to carry you away on an historical journey. I read it because on a dark, grey, wet February week this was a great tonic. Therefore I just want to recommend this novel to you as a book to treat yourself to over a long weekend, a holiday or as a sheer bit of escapism. It is a relaxing, engaging, easy read and I enjoyed it as much as Jefferies previous novels.
The book is organised into four parts and I really enjoyed the quotes that introduced each section. I'll leave you with this one which comes at the start of Part 2 but is full of wisdom.
"If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars."
Before the Rains will be published by Penguin on 23rd February 2017.
For my review of Dinah Jefferies' The Silk Merchant's Daughter, please click on the link below:
The silk merchant's daughter
Follow Dinah Jefferies on Twitter: @DinahJefferies
If you like Dinah Jefferies, you might want to try these books too - click on the links to be taken to my reviews:
The Sugar Planter's Daughter Sharon Maas
A dictionary of mutual understanding
Circling the Sun by Paula Mclain
The English Girl by Katherine Webb
The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
For eleven years the clock has been ticking for Russell Gaines as he sits in Parchman penitentiary. His sentence now up, Russell believes his debt has been paid. But when he returns home, he discovers that revenge lives and breathes all around him.
Meanwhile, a woman named Maben and her young daughter trudge along the side of the interstate. Desperate and exhausted, the pair spend their last dollar on a room for the night, a night that ends with Maben holding a pistol and a dead deputy sprawled in the middle of the road.
With the dawn, destinies collide, and Russell is forced to decide whose life he will save—his own or those of the woman and child.
And he does. 'Desperation Road" is a mesmerising read. Slow, haunting, intriguing and poetic. It opens with the characters only being referred to as "old man", "woman" and "little girl" which is both effective in establishing the themes and atmosphere of the novel. The writing is stunning and emphasises the desperation of the characters and the events which unfold.
"He saw that there was a vacancy in her expression when she answered his questions and he knew she didn't know any more about what they were doing or where they were going than he did."
There's a dreamlike quality to the writing as the characters almost seem to be sleepwalking through their lives, waiting for clarity, or searching for something they can not quite articulate.
Maben is a character who requests empathy, sympathy and intrigue.
"A phone book hung from a metal cord and she opened it and began to try to remember the names of people she used to know. She tried to think of a friend or some down-the-line cousin. Something. Somebody. She looked at the names in the phone book as if one might reach up and poke a finger in her eye and say hey look it's me."
It's hard to separate out short quotes as the writing is so absorbing and carries you along through the unbroken passages of effortless prose. The sentences, sometimes very long, sometimes shorter, are often part of long passages where the dialogue is sparse.This is a book which allows the reader to celebrate good writing. Smith depicts the life of his characters with considered, deliberate prose. There are many lines over which to hover and fully appreciate the writer's craft, yet hover too long and the brutality which they convey could overwhelm you.
Although all in third person, Smith presents well crafted, completely three dimensional characters who have lived through desperate times. The central characters, Russell and Maben, are captivating. We engage with them; their pasts, their nightmares, their failings and their journeys. There are other characters who although on the sidelines are still presented with authenticity and depth. Smith is a writer who understands the people he is writing about and is obviously fully immersed in the world they inhabit -ensuring the reader does the same.
This is a dark and gritty novel. It is powerful and bleak. The setting and location of the novel is well evoked. The writing is detailed yet sparse and I felt torn between feeling shocked, unnerved and heartbroken as the lives of Maben and Russell are revealed. I think the publisher's description that this is haunting and devastating is probably the best way to summarise the novel.
To me, "Desperation Road" already reads like an American Classic. Robert Olen Butler has praised this novel and if you enjoyed "Perfume River" then you will enjoy this. Fans of William Faulkner and Hemmingway will find this book rewarding and satisfying.
It is clear this book will leave its mark on the literary world.
Thank you to No Exit Press for an advanced copy of this novel - a novel I would not have usually chosen to read but have enjoyed and can recognise the obvious talent of Michael Farris Smith.
FURTHER PRAISE FOR DESPERATION ROAD:
“Desperation Road is an elegantly written, perfectly paced novel about a man and woman indelibly marked by violence. Characters who would be mere stereotypes in a lesser writer’s hands are fully realized, and we come to care deeply as they attempt to create a better life for themselves. An outstanding performance.” Ron Rash, NYT bestselling author of Serena and The Cove
“Anchored by prose that is both poetic and brutal, Desperation Road is a gorgeous and violent book. But don't be fooled by the title. Michael Farris Smith's novel teems with the honest and believable humanity that only the bravest writers dare to search for in the most troubled souls.” Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street
“Michael Farris Smith taps into the rhythm of a world I know, and he does it so well, with such ease, that it's almost like I'm living it instead of reading it. His anti-heroes teeter always between the drag-out skids and sweet redemption, and they create a beautiful, true tension that makes this novel burn and thrum in your hands.” Jamie Korngay author of Soil
For more from me, you can find me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)