Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn


DATE READ: October 2010

NOTES: I have always found something a bit ludicrous about local television news. When the main national newsreader announces “And now the news where you are….” you know that the whole tone of broadcasting changes. Out go the challenging questions to people in power and reports on serious world issues and in come the charity events, the sick children seeking funds for treatment abroad and the pensioner robbed by yobs. And local television news is virtually the same throughout the country – just different hairstyles, different puns and different settees.

I don’t think I have read another novel that is based in a local television news room – it’s surprising that no-one thought of the idea before. But O’Flynn doesn’t belittle her subject but instead treats it with good humour and affection. Her main protagonist is Frank – and unambitious journalist with a terrible line in (purchased) jokes who nonetheless has a substantial local fanbase. His co-presenter Julia is bright but cynical and clearly feels she is meant for better things than local news.

The themes running throughout this novel are loss and change. Frank’s father had been the architect of many of Birmingham’s brutally modern sixties civic buildings. But now things are changing and one by one they are being demolished – and Frank feels sad about their loss but comforted by his chirpy and optimistic young daughter Mo. Frank also takes it upon himself to attend the funerals of people who have been reported as dying alone – often as the only mourner. He is hardly able to articulate why he does this but feels it is his responsibility – but we see it as evidence of his “goodness”.

There is a plot – nothing like as complex as What Was Lost – about the unexplained death of his predecessor. But it is not the plotting that is important in this book. It is the vibrant characters, the great dialogue and a superb evocation of a changing city.

I am a huge fan of Catherine O’Flynn’s debut novel What Was Lost so I approached her new book with some trepidation. But I was not disappointed – it really is an excellent novel.

Highly recommended.

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