Monthly Archives: July 2016

July 2016

Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney – 3.5/5

A bleak soap opera of unhappy families, drug dealers, prostitutes, addictions and domestic abuse – yet not as dark or gritty as the subject matter might suggest.  McInerney’s prose has an original rhythm and good flow; I expected a slightly less conventional story structure to match.  The plot, however, neatly slots piece to piece with little that is unexpected in a fairly standard coming of age story.

Ryan comes from a family of drinkers and in his mid-teens, dreams of the future and escape, buoyed by the love of his beautiful girlfriend.  His journey to manhood is paved with a growing disillusion as he becomes a minor player in bigger dramas, and his own potential slips out of reach.

Very readable story, but peopled by ‘gangsters’ and an ‘underworld’ that I didn’t quite believe in.  The cover suggested something cutting edge, but the story lacked the actual edginess to back it up.  A bit too poetic?  There was no real sense of desperation or sharpness or brutality in the characters or their situations.

On one level an enjoyable read, on another, a bit disappointing.  The style of writing would encourage me to try the author again in the future, to see how she develops.

The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler – 3.5/5

A house uncared for, crumbling into the sea; a family of professional mermaids all destined to drown on the same date; and a mysterious book about a travelling circus that ties these two things together…

Simon’s life is literally falling apart around him – the house he grew up in, and the job he has just lost.  But the girl next door is on the cusp of becoming something more, and his sister is coming back to visit after long years away, so it’s not all bad. In the midst of everything else, Simon is sent an old book by an unknown book dealer, and finds himself sucked into a world that seems to unlock his own unusual family history.

The writing is unremarkable but the story is engaging enough.  The coincidences of fate and family are admittedly far-fetched, but it is not a novel that is steeped in realism, so that was not too big an issue.  It did manage to build up some tension and was not quite as predictable as I was afraid it might be.  A good bit of escapism that skates around something slightly deeper.

The plot bears some passing resemblance to the Coincidence Authority by J W Ironmonger, but was ultimately far more likeable .  I imagine it might also appeal to fans of Andrew Kaufman, The Waterproof Bible etc.  The Seas by Samantha Hunt is touches on different aspects of the mermaid myth and is beautifully written.

July 2016 Catch-Up

The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner – 4

A boy goes on the road with his father to sell the brand new colt revolver – but is left to fend for himself when his father is killed by outlaws.  Thomas must somehow survive the harsh landscape alone, in what becomes an engaging and thoroughly original coming of age story.  A good read for fans of the Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, although the Road to Reckoning has the literary edge, for me.

The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait – 3

Written by Alice Liddell’s great-granddaughter, this book promised a unique perspective on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and the original Alice.  It was certainly interesting from the historical perspective but did not really offer much that was new or unknown (although I was glad that Tait did not take the well-trodden child-abuse route). The fictional events built around the facts didn’t quite provide enough substance to make this work stand out as much as I wanted it to – a fairly singular, one-dimensional plotline. And although the writing is adequate, sometimes there was a lack of period inflection that jarred with me slightly.  Not a bad book by any means, but sadly nothing really special, either.

For people interested in Alice/Carroll re-written in fiction, others to look out for are After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold, Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe, and my personal favourite, White Stone Day by John MacLachlan Gray.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley – 2.5

Apparently an atmospheric, gothic bestseller but failed to provide any real tension or suspense.  A gloomy house on a rainy coast with killer tides; menacing men lurking with unspoken threat; a houseful of Catholic guilt; a mute boy determined to be provided with a miracle recovery by his mother.  Not bad basic ingredients, but failed to live up to its promise.

Most of the book is given over to building up the tension but the writing has neither the style nor character to pull this off, and drags mercilessly as we wait for the dramatic finale that has been promised since the opening chapter.  All the focus is on the religious retreat, so although there are very minor hints of the pagan witchcraft going on in the background, it is not given enough context to seem in any way real.  The turning point, when it eventually arrives, feels somewhat rushed, and the after-effects unbelievable and skimmed over far too quickly.

Reviews claim this novel’s power is in its ambiguity and what is left unsaid, but for me, it simply said too little for far too long to have any power at all.  A big damp squib.

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt – 4

Two children raised in a home for orphans run by an unstable religious fanatic, and rescued by a conman who wants to earn money from their alleged ability to speak to the dead.  A cult built on a mixture of religion, meteorites and popular music.  A pregnant woman and her mute aunt travelling on foot to an unknown destination.

The naivety of Ruth and Nat is justifiable given their upbringing; Cora’s willingness to be led on a blind mission by Ruth slightly less plausible (although she is clearly at a major crossroad in her life), but a willingness to suspend belief is essential to the story.

As the story of Ruth & Nat’s escape as children eventually converges with the present day run from and to places unknown, the tension and suspense build as the loose ends tie themselves together and the denouement becomes inevitable.  The very end is perhaps a little too pat/obvious when it arrives – I was expecting something a little darker, overall – but the journey is thoroughly enjoyable.

Essentially both a love story and a ghost story, Mr. Splitfoot reminded me a little of the Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy and also Graham Joyce‘s infusion of the supernatural.