The third book by the Man Booker shortlisted author Graeme Macrae Burnet, a follow up to his first book The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau and second in a proposed trilogy about the detective Georges Gorski.
This book is very well written and researched and it is compelling to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it, however it seemed to be lacking the 'je ne sais quoi' element that made GMB outstanding in his field. There are long descriptions about what people were wearing which I found tiresome after a while - I did not think it necessary to describe every item of clothing that the deceased's wife had on every single time she was interviewed by Gorski for example. That said the characters were well drawn, the setting believable and so was the plot. Set in a time before much in the way of forensics and certainly before mobile phones the policing had to be done the old fashioned way and it was indeed very well done. There is a slight twist in the end but not what you think it's going to be.
This is a very good book and I'd recommend it, but don't be surprised by the lack of .............................. I don't know, 'specialness' that was present in the previous two books by Burnet.
review of 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Auster's latest novel starts with chapter 1.0 being the one constant in the story of the four Ferguson's that each part of the novel starting with the arrival of Ferguson's grandfather to New York and the boat over. We have the same genetic make up of the one character but in four different scenario for each. So in one, Archie is a star sports athlete, another he had been poorly as a child while a third. Each unique in their own way and each creating a different character though with some similiarities.
In the first Ferguson for each of the chapters, this seems more to try to refresh people on the history of the period chosen. Some characters reoccur in the four novels for example Amy. Some things overlap, it seemed to me that in each the young Ferguson has a penchant for double acts with people whether through the films of Laurel & Hardy or the part he plays at a summer camp where him and a friend pretend to be Steinbeck's Lennie & George.
A bit of this reads like a best of collection of Paul Auster's novels, there is one Ferguson that translates French poetry, another that uses films as a source to help them through a difficult time, . But this isn't a bad thing. I think if you like Auster's other novels, you probably will like this one. While I found the size of it daunting to begin with, I think that these familiar surroundings did help and I did give myself a brief recap prior to starting each chapter of which Ferguson this is.
Overall, it really works and Auster knits and sews a splendid story together on the four Fergusons. I found it to be superb. A very engaging read. I did think early on maybe it would be good if the chapters ran consecutively for each of the ferguson's rather than each of the fergusons' chapter ones following each other.
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All The Galaxies is a strange and hypnotic blend of four stories that cross and merge and unmerge again.
First, there is Scotland in the near future. Following a second independence referendum (which we presume Scotland lost), law and order has broken down in The Horrors, but strong city state governments have emerged from the remnants of local councils. Within Greater Glasgow, control is being reasserted, the internet has been restored and the leader of the sinister Wardens movement, Wee Lawrence, is in Barlinnie. Oh, and Rangers FC (or should that be Sevco) is no more – so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Second, there is the story of John Fallon, a news editor in the fictional Mercury newspaper. Originally from England, he has landed up in Glasgow, his wife long gone and contact with his adult son Roland about to evaporate. He and his crew try to provide objectivity and sense from the chaos, all the while lurching from bar to bar, extending one night stands for as long as they will go, living in debauched squalor.
Thirdly, there is the story of Fallon’s son Roland, remembering life in Tyrdale as a child, holidays to the Scottish islands and drunken student parties.
And finally, there is a boy, Tarka, travelling the heavens with his spirit-guide dog Kim.
The novel is really well constructed, balancing the elements carefully – no mean feat considering the multiple points of view and the strangeness of some of the subject matter. And the fourth narrative in the heavens is very strange indeed – no longer bound by the laws of physics, time, location or society. No dog lover could read this section without falling for Kim, the wise, kind, loyal and talkative border terrier (though whoever thought a cover picture of a dead dog would sell a book needs professional help).
My favourite story, though, is the Scottish dystopia. Knowing Glasgow helps – particularly the immediate environs of George Square and Kelvingrove. But knowing Scottish politics – and Northern Ireland’s recent history from which so many of the novel’s scenes have been borrowed – probably helps even more. And the great thing is that unlike typical fictional dystopias, we are not on the verge of the end of the world; we haven’t seen the collapse of the system; we haven’t descended into savage people roaming through smouldering embers in search of canned food. It is a plausible situation where commerce continues, communications remain in place, people travel and work and socialise, and Glasgow City Council officials seize the power they have spent their entire careers envying. And goodness me, Philip Miller must have spent some time in the “cube” of City Chambers to have been able to evoke it so accurately.
If there is a criticism, it is that the plot does not always live up to the stellar settings and descriptions. Only Tarka is allowed a personality that develops; the other characters have to be taken as found. Fallon’s life, in particular, is not always fascinating and the intrigue involving the journalists and the council was perhaps a little too murky and ended up a little too unresolved. In fact, the ending as a whole felt a bit of a let-down after much promise.
But these are minor criticisms of an otherwise excellent novel that will make the reader think about the ephemerality of life, the importance of love and friendship, the machinery of government, and astral dogs.
Unnamed narrator, a brown girl growing up in Brent, gets the dream job working as a general factotum for an international rock star called Aimee who is really Madonna wearing a Kylie mask.
The story dips back and forth in our narrator's life. There was a friendly childhood rivalry with Tracey - who lived fun the flats on the wrong side of the road. There was the job working for a youth TV company. There was the mother's political career as she became MP for Brent West. There were romances. The really constant line, though, is Aimee. This is a good insight into the world of the super-rich; the superstars with retinues, with diaries chock-full of trivia, with a quest for new challenges when everything has already been achieved. So we follow our narrator, following Aimee to The Gambia where the plan is to set up a school for girls. Aimee has the big idea, her retinue have to make it happen. It is a classic case of imposing western values on a developing country; the school is not what the community needs but, by God, it is what they are going to get.
But the Gambian line starts to get bogged down with personal relationships. As the Aimee party all seem to hook up with Gambians, it gets mighty dull. Do I care that A fancies B and B fancies C? I think not.
And the Tracey line is also interesting, although it is not quite clear how friendly rivalry in teenage became hostility in adulthood. Tracey is a dancer and pursues her dream. Our narrator doesn't really have a dream but pursues it anyway. There was supposed to be a significant moment, but when it is revealed it carries too much weight.
There is enough in the book to make the reader smile. There is pop culture, satire, race, class, politics. But there is also this saggy, baggy middle that goes on way too long and allows the interest to wane. I didn't buy the ending at all - which required our narrator to become a disgruntled employee and for her employer to discover that fact. Both these premises were implausible. But at least it brought a long novel to a somewhat belated end.
This sounds negative, but on balance the good did outweigh the bad. But if only there had been a stronger editor...
For me, this was the Book Without End.
It started so brightly. Two young boys willing to wear dresses and dance to entertain the miners in some wild west saloon. It's nice. It's different. It's unusual. It earns the novel a second star. But then the boys grow up and can no longer pass as women, so they go off a-soldiering. They meet some Indians and kill them. They meet some more Indians and don't kill them. They meet some more Indians and kill them...
It was just so repetitive.
And being honest, I never really bought the narrative voice either. It sounds arty and forced. Let's be arty and poetic, but toss in some grammatical tics to remind us all that we are dealing with burel men whose rude speche we must excuse.
This is not a long book, but I struggled to get a third of the way through it in a week. Every time I thought of picking it up, I got a sense of dread. And every time I put it down, I felt that it was an hour of my life that I would never get back (even though, I suspect, these hours lasted no more than 15 minutes apiece).
So, a third of the way through, I decided to stop. Some who have read the whole damned thing tell me that the last couple of chapters are quite good, but they agree that the vast middle meanders. This is the point where I have made a pact with myself not to read any more Sebastian Barry. I enjoyed Enais McNulty and Annie Dunne, but more recent stuff has felt tired. I feel as though Sebastian Barry is writing for himself and not for me. That's his prerogative, and it is clearly working for him and for Booker judges, but I'm not going to be part of it any more.