The Emigre by Joan Brady

DATE FINISHED: March 6th, 2011

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS: Nikolas Strakhan is a lifelong conman – a talented but failed musician, did he sell his soul to the devil? Either way, he is the black sheep of his extended family, living by his charm & wit. When he turns up in the London papers about to conduct an orchestra, scientist Evie (Bored at work – and, to be honest, also with her boyfriend) becomes fascinated by the exploits of her boyfriend’s curiously charismatic, overweight uncle.

THOUGHTS: This book was sitting on my shelf for years, but on the cusp of passing it on unread, I decided I should finally get around to reading it before losing the opportunity! The author won the Whitbread prize with a previous novel (‘The Theory of War’) yet there are no reviews at all of ‘The Emigre’ on Amazon, which struck me as odd, & piqued my interest. I soon became caught up in the story, so much so that I had to stay up until I finished it the same night rather than wait until the next day. So yes, I enjoyed it! The story had a satisfying cyclical structure and while the writing itself did not stand out to me in any way, neither did it have any of those annoyingly ‘quirky’ characteristics that detract from the story. I did get a little irritated by the mock-ups of newspaper ads etc – possibly just because I think current word processing technology would have created more convincing snippets, but also, I think, because it felt like a bit of an unecessary gimmick.

FOLLOWING ON: This book reminded me very strongly of Fay Weldon, in terms of both writing style & plotting.  I do have a hit & miss relationship with Fay Weldon, so to be specific, it reminded me of Fay Weldon on a day when she is not being so explicitly feminist.  The cyclical nature of the story made me want to re-read one of my favourites of hers, ‘The Hearts and Souls of Men’.  The Faustian pact element of the story also reminded me of ‘The Deadly Inbetween’ by Patricia Duncker.

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