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  1. I wanted to love A Book Of Death And Fish. Stunning reviews, promising the definitive Hebridean novel, centred on Stornoway where I spent a happy year of my life. What could there possibly be not to like? Sadly, the reality was a hotch potch of short articles, mostly telling us things we already knew (the fate of the Iolaire) or things we could never possibly want to know (the intimate details of fishing for business and pleasure). It read like journalism, not fiction. The voice varies from wooden and factual to outlandish Scots. This, despite (as far as I could tell) the supposition of a single narrator. For a novel, there is precious little narrative drive. It’s basically one man’s observation of what is going on around him, sliced and diced into little packages and put into a seemingly random order. And repeated. And repeated. And repeated again. I should confess at this point that I read only the first 20% of the book. Perhaps things pick up after this. Perhaps the Martian landing on Barbhas Moor galvanised the Lewis people to set up a people’s army in defiance of the policy of appeasement being fed to them by the Scottish Office, leading to meetings in smoke filled rooms to plan the unilateral declaration of independence, supported by clandestine importation of arms from Libya. But if this is where things went, I will never know. The first 20% was simply so boring, disjointed and clunky. And sprinkling in a couple of helpings of Gaelic words and Lewis dialect may persuade some that this is a work of fine poetry but to this reader it looks like window-dressing to hide a very plain view. Stornoway deserves better. It should be possible to relate the social changes alluded to in this book through a more engaging protagonist and a supporting cast of real people, not just cardboard cut-outs. The subject matter cries out for a real, human voice with a soul, not some newscaster reciting facts set out on a script. Can I have my money back? *0000
  2. The Matrix is a gothic horror, written in the kind of scientific first person style of Sheridan Le Fanu. Except, unlike Le Fanu, it is set in the here and now. We meet Andrew Macleod, a Gaelic native speaker from Lewis as he arrives in Edinburgh, only in his 30s and already grieving the loss of his young wife. He has taken a post at the university and sets out to explore historic occult groups. This draws Macleod into a terrifying world of hooded men, mysterious texts and unexplained illnesses. Truly, Jonathan Aycliffe creates a creepy, eerie world and sustains it as the narrative moves from Edinburgh to Morocco and back to Scotland. This is done mostly through innuendo, scratching in the attic, glimpses in the shadows and builds into blips in the timeline. The characters feel real; there is a great sense if interface between the real, contemporaneous world and an ancient, Arabic, occult world. Thus far, it works well. But something happens towards the end. As the mysterious happenings cohere into a plot, the pace starts to race and the strength of the imagery weakens. The ending itself is weak and implausible - it is a huge letdown for a novel that has been so intriguing. ***00
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