Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Ghost by Robert Harris

With serendipitous timing, my book circle read ‘The Ghost’ by Robert Harris, this month. Serendipitous, because the main character of the book is someone engaged to be the ghost writer of the ex-Prime Minister of the UK, who resembles to a certain extent our own ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair. In the novel, he is accused of crimes relating to extraordinary rendition, which, of course, has been in the news again quite recently. In addition, we have just observed the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the day which triggered off all such events in the last ten years.

The narrator - the ghost - had a humorous self-deprecating voice, which made the book very readable, even though the book, in time, developed a darker edge to it. He, as befits a ghost, does not have a name. It is suggested that the ghost writer takes on the identity of the person who he is ghosting, and in the case of the narrator, he does take on some aspects of his subject’s life. He also, in this particular case, follows the path of his dead predecessor who has been killed - either in an accident, or by design.

The ex PM who bears a different name from our own ex, and has a different background/upbringing/university and also a shaky marriage with sexual liaisons going on both on his part and his wife’s, quite unlike (one assumes) the marriage of TB and CB. Nevertheless, one cannot help finding resemblances to TB, and wondering, therefore, how the author got away with this piece of chutzpah.

The book then, is on the whole, a thriller, but the political aspect is interesting and gives food for thought. I haven’t read any of Robert Harris’s novels before, but it was definitely a page turner, and I enjoyed it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Noontide Owls - a fantasy

Ahead of the launch of my friend, Irene Black's novel next week, I thought I'd include my review, which is quite genuine and not influenced by friendship:

Noontide Owls

The story begins when the Conquerors, the brutal occupiers of Shoogmunimera, formerly and latterly known as Ambamar, leave the country, having plundered its riches and reduced it to a barren land. Originally united in adversity, the various tribes whose home it is soon begin to split apart, each trying to get the best of what remains. Within these tribes, brave individuals struggle to reunite the warring factions. This story runs concurrently with tales which describe how each of the tribes had originally found their way to Ambamar.

Irene Black is skilled in the art of description, and in her two earlier novels, she uses this to great effect to capture the character of the Indian subcontinent, which is featured in both previous books. I am not normally a reader of fantasy books, but I read Noontide Owls, having read these other two books, and I was not disappointed.

In fact, this genre has allowed Irene Black to give full rein to her imagination, without the restriction of a factual background. As such, a fantasy world has been created with ordinary and extraordinary mythical creatures inhabiting it. The book is enhanced by a number of black and white drawings illustrating some of the chapters.

With appealing main characters, Maara and the brave Trumpeters, Arolan and Elin, Noontide Owls is an intelligent and beautifully written allegory for adults and a fantastic adventure for young readers. I strongly recommend it.

These are my granddaughter’s comments, as told to me:

‘I enjoyed reading Noontide Owls, and I would read it again. It was really fantastical and adventurous. My favourite characters were the two trumpeters because they were such fun to read about. As far as the ending was concerned, I liked the way it was resolved.’

Asked if she found it difficult, 10 year old Eve said, ‘It was the perfect age for me, but I do read books for people older than my age.’

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I put off reading ‘Freedom’ the latest book by Jonathan Franzen, because I had failed to finish 'The Corrections.' Once I got started, however, I started to enjoy it. This substantial book describes a marriage which has difficulties. It concentrates on the main protagonists, the wife, Patty, the husband, Walter, the children, mainly Joey and to a lesser extent, Jessica; some extra marital problems.

Franzen does this with a certain amount of humour, even though he is documenting the breakdown of a marriage. This is not a book you read for the plot, even though you want to know what is going to happen next; it’s really a case of getting to know the characters. I thought the autobiographical part, seen through the woman’s eyes was extremely perceptive and contained the sort of truths I would never write in my own fiction. Just too revealing. I also thought that as a man, he got under a woman’s skin in a remarkable manner. However, I felt that the story from the son, Joey’s perspective was really too coarse for me. Yes, it was funny, but just a bit too OTT.

There was some complicated stuff about the organisation that Walter is involved with and a bit of politics, and Franzen made some points about the environment and companies that pretend to be environmentally friendly while ripping everyone off, but I didn’t feel this was the main point of the book.

Towards the end, I got a bit impatient. Franzen started bringing in the relations of both and Walter and telling me things about them I wasn’t really interested in. Why did he come back to these relatives so late in the book, when their first appearances were so long ago, I had forgotten all about them. He was still readable, even then, and then, as we wound our way to the end of the story, I found it completely satisfactory.

I may even return to The Corrections.