Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Man Who Disappeared by Clare Morrall


DATE READ: September 2010

NOTES: The concept of someone choosing to disappear from society is intriguing. After reading this book I asked an ex-police officer how feasible it was to slip “beneath the radar”. Surprisingly easy, was his response – if someone chooses to disappear then there is a strong possibility that they will not be found. The exception, of course, is if a crime is suspected – then the authorities have more options.

In The Man Who Disappeared Clare Morrall explores what happens to an apparently happy and prosperous family when the father simply disappears. In this case a crime seems to have been committed. Kate Kendall soon realises how little she actually knows about her husband’s life outside the home. At first there is terrible anger and disbelief as she seeks to hold her family together – not helped by the fact that she is now penniless and in danger of losing her home.

This book is well-crafted and the suspense is kept up well. The three children are particularly well drawn as fully rounded characters – very believable. Rory, the quirky youngest child, was especially interesting. The ending was suitably ambiguous – much better than a conventional happy ending.

My only real problem with this book was the fact that it was written in the present tense. Not sure why I find this a bit jarring…..

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Love Secrets of Don Juan by Tim Lott


DATE READ: September 2010

NOTES: “Spike” Daniel Savage is continually confused about Man/Woman relationships. His marriage of some ten years with Beth has failed and he is in therapy hoping to uncover the elusive secrets of how to love and be loved. He decides that the result of the contradictions in women is B. M. A. – Bewilderment, Misunderstanding, Anger.

Daniels struggles to find happiness through a series of unfortunate meetings and mishaps. Much of the writing is funny and perceptive – but there is always a tinge of sadness…

The scene with the divorce mediator where his wife screws even more money out of him seems to be written from bitter reality!

I didn’t think this was as good as Lott’s Rumours of a Hurricane but I enjoyed it very much.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby


DATE READ: September 2010

NOTES: Four people all with different problems plan to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve. They meet up accidentally on the roof of a tower block (“Toppers’ Tower”). They are four very different personalities but by the end of the evening they have formed an uneasy alliance and agree to put off killing themselves until Valentine’s Day.

Some genuinely funny and quirky situations arise – all very Hornbyesque! The characters are more or less stereotypes – the disgraced media star, the downtrodden single mum, the failed rock musician and the troubled punk teenager. At times our credibility is stretched as to whether these people would really offer any meaningful support to each other. Three of them are quite likeable – but dare I say they may well have been tempted to push the appalling Jess off the roof!

On a more serious note – what would a family who had lost someone through suicide think of this book? A real would-be suicide inhabits a dark despairing world in which death seems to them to be the only option available.

The various plot threads are all tied up neatly at the end. There are no sweet and sentimental “happy” endings – Hornby did well to avoid this.

A light read – but a dark subject.

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears


DATE READ: August 2010

NOTES: Stone’s Fall is a complex and multi-layered historical novel. The story begins in 1909 when a young and inexperienced journalist is engaged by Stone’s widow to find the daughter mentioned in his will. In order not to let anyone know about this illegitimate offspring Braddock assumes the role as Stone’s biographer as a cover story.

This could have been a fairly predictable story in which the child is sought while at the same time enquiring into how Stone came to die in such mysterious circumstances. But nothing is as it seems. Braddock soon realises that he is in a shadowy world in which no-one can be trusted.

The second part is narrated by Henry Cort – a shady character with vague links to the British security services – as well as an intriguing link to Stone. The third part is told by Stone himself wherein many things are explained and various ends tied up. This book is written like a 19th century novel – lots of detail but with some really vivid characters and strong plot-lines. Often two parallel stories are running together – for instance the race to avoid financial meltdown takes place alongside the search for Elizabeth’s diaries.

A massive amount of research has obviously gone into Stone’s Fall. The concept that international capital is more important than the nation state is clearly explained. When discussing the possibility of war in Europe Lefevre says “It will not be the armies fighting next time, but economies…….War and peace will be decided by the movement of capital.” And who would have thought that intelligence about coal stocks could be so crucial?

Stone is obviously a complex egocentric larger-than-life character but his wife Elizabeth is also a brilliant creation. She continually fools those around her (and the reader) as she lies, schemes and reinvents herself again and again. She is like a character from Zola.

There are enough plots in it to make up three or four books and although I felt a little overwhelmed by the mass of detail at times Stone’s Fall is a great read.