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.


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