“The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide (2014)

Leave a comment

“At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.”

Being the biggest reader by far in my family, it is unusual to receive a recommendation from my sister about what to read. Nevertheless, she’s related to me, so her taste isn’t bad and when she does suggest something, I know she’s usually talking sense. This brings me to The Guest Cat, another journey into the weird and wonderful world of Japanese literature.

It’s 1988, and a couple in their thirties live in the suburbs of Tokyo, with not much left to say to one another. One day, however, things change when a small cat invites herself into their home. Chibi becomes their guest, a tiny spark of beauty that infects the rest of their world, lighting things up and giving everything a new, fresh appearance. The couple also find their relationship blossoming as they share stories of Chibi and learn to love her curious ways. But then something happens and everything changes again.

This will be a short review because there isn’t a whole lot to say about the book. Like many Japanese stories that have made their way into an English translation, it is a story where not very much happens, there is an obsession with cats, and the writing itself is beautiful. The author, Takashi Hiraide, is more prominently a poet, and that very much shows here. The descriptions of the narrator’s little house and the behaviours of the adorable Chibi are stunning, and you get quickly dragged in to this tiny world, a slice of life tale where we see a scene from the lives of some very ordinary people. There isn’t much more to say than that.

A lovely gem of a novella.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Crudo” by Olivia Laing (2018)

Leave a comment

“Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married today.”

I did the rare thing this week of giving up on a book that I wasn’t enjoying, and instead plunged headfirst into this novella about the end of the world.

It’s 2017 and Kathy is about to get married. She is worried, however, by the state of the world, with right wing governments taking office, the UK paralysed by Brexit, climate change is out of control, and anyone can lose everything with one wayward tweet. Nonetheless, she is determined to make her marriage work. Olivia Laing constructs a snapshot of a fleeting moment, capturing one hot, horrific summer in the early 21st century, as she asks if there is any point in learning to love when everything’s about to end.

The book is entirely set in 2017, and frequently mentions news stories of the time, with Kathy feeling the world is ending with every new story she hears. It’s only three years later that I’m reading it, and yet it seems like an entirely different world already. As the story progresses we see the world come to terms with the election of Trump, the President’s firing Bannon and Comey, the early repercussions of the Brexit vote begin to get felt, Jeremy Hunt denying trying to sell the NHS off, and the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. Each seemed an earth-shattering story at the time, and while the fallout from each trundles on today, it’s remarkable to think how many tragedies we’ve been through in the last few years.

Kathy’s story, laced through these events, is one of falling love. A survivor of breast cancer, she has finally found someone she loves enough to get married at the age of forty, although we learn later that her husband is twenty-nine years older than her. It is believed that narrator is based on Kathy Acker, who is not someone I knew so I probably missed a good deal. Acker, however, died in 1997, so while our author here shares the same name and published books of identical titles, it isn’t the real one. This is obviously some literary allusion that went far above my head, although I don’t think it’s necessarily any worse for not understanding. The writing is too charged with emotion, juxtaposing falling in love with the fall of civilisation in one of the most tumultuous periods of recent history. Some of it stings a bit too close to home as the world around us becomes messier and madder and it makes you ask fundamental questions about why and how we bother carrying on as if there is some future we’ll be save in. I guess we just have hope there is.

The perfect novel to consume on a hot day, and a stark reminder of how quickly the world can change.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Remains Of The Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

Leave a comment

“It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.”

One of my favourite novels of all time – I could never pick an absolute favourite – is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. The story was magical, the prose beautiful, and I got swept up in it quite by accident, having judged the book by its cover originally and not really thinking it was me. It was perhaps the only book on my university reading list I came away loving. I since read a collection of Ishiguro’s short stories called Nocturnes, which I quite liked, but I thought it was time to finally turn to the novel that has, by all accounts, already settled itself among the literary classics.

It is 1956, and Stevens is the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, recently taken over by an American gentleman by the name of Mr Farraday. With the running of the household his primary concern, Stevens wonders if they aren’t a bit short-staffed and when he receives a letter from the former housekeeper Miss Kenton which suggests she is having marital difficulties, he decides to ask for a week off to travel down to the West Country and see if she would want to be employed at Darlington Hall once more.

Unused to free time, Stevens is nonetheless determined to make the most of it, and when Mr Farraday offers him the loan of his car, a short holiday is booked, which takes Stevens deep into the countryside and his past. As he travels to Miss Kenton, never quite sure what the outcome of the meeting will be, he reminisces on his career, thinking back to his time under the late Lord Darlington. Some of his memories perhaps he would rather not have played back, and his obsession with dignity and loyalty time and time again encroach on them. He begins to wonder if things may have turned out differently, and what really does make a good butler.

While quite funny in places – it’s a typical comedy-of-manners – overall I found the story really rather tragic. Stevens strikes me as a lonely figure, although I don’t think he even realises this extent of this himself. His primary goal is always to run a perfect household, regardless of whatever else might happen. He struggles with personal relationships and is seen at times practising witticisms, in case his employer expects him to be able to banter, and also reading romance novels where he can better learn how people talk in informal situations. It is upsetting that he has not learnt these skills organically. He is tonally deaf to so many situations, his employer always coming first. Even when his father dies, he is unable to attend his bedside because he is needed in the dining room, and when Miss Kenton is upset, he remains resolutely professional and would rather chastise her for a failing in her work rather than offer sympathy. He belongs in a past era, and Miss Kenton serves to explore how behind the times he has become, and is about the only person who has never dared question him. Although they call themselves friends, I do wonder if Stevens has ever had a true friend in his life.

Stevens is so obsessed with dignity that he loses his humanity, and towards the end seems almost surprised to learn that the nature of “bantering” is the “key to human warmth”. He and Miss Kenton could quite easily have fallen in love, I’m sure, but he won’t yield and therein lies the tragedy. He is so loyal to Lord Darlington that he forgets to have a personality and life of his own. I imagine this is true of many butlers of the time, and I find it impossible to imagine a life in service like this. In some ways, I admire his resolution and devotion to his job, but above all I just feel pity. He has been constrained by his role and doesn’t know how to escape these bonds he has made for himself, and perhaps isn’t even sure he wants to. At the very end, there’s a hint that he thinks he has missed out on life, but his final words go back to his concern for his employer. He will never change.

A heart-breaking and beautiful novel.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“A Ladder To The Sky” by John Boyne (2018)

Leave a comment

“From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany.”

I don’t often dabble in literary fiction, finding the snobbery surrounding it really off-putting. Nonetheless, some of it slips through the net when the story seems interesting enough, which is how I came to A Ladder to the Sky.

Erich Ackerman, once a celebrated author whose greatest work is behind him, has lived a long and lonely life, but upon meeting young waiter and would-be-novelist Maurice Swift, it seems that things are about to change. Taking Swift under his wing as his personal assistant, the two tour the world attending literary festivals, and as Ackerman gets closer to Swift, he begins to reveal things about his past that he’s never told anyone. He finds himself telling the story of his first love, and the time his actions led to the death of a Jewish family as the Second World War began. He comes to regret it though, when Swift takes his story and turns it into a novel, destroying Ackerman’s reputation.

Swift, however, is desperate. While he’s a capable writer, he cannot come up with his own ideas. Now he’s had one success, he has tasted fame and respect, and his ambition knows no limits. He knows that stories will make him famous, and he’s prepared to beg, borrow or steal to get them. And maybe not he won’t even stop there.

So, first up, Maurice Swift. Of the novel’s five parts, it is only in the final part that we experience things with him narrating. He is an unwavering shit, with very few redeeming features. His actions are, for me, unforgivable, and he becomes increasingly insane and obsessed with achieving his goals and is not bothered about who gets hurt along the way. He shows no remorse for his actions, particularly regarding Erich Ackerman, who is treats with complete disregard once he has stolen his life story for his own. Ackerman narrates the first section, one is full of pity for him, a man long past his prime who finds his head turned by the attentions of a handsome young man. The middle chapter gives us things from the point of view of Edith, Swift’s wife, another novelist who appears to be falling out of love with her erratic husband. Again, the pity one feels is palpable. Swift is a monster.

The book brings up several issues regarding ownership of stories, plagiarism, and whether it matters who tells a story, as long as the story is told. Personally, I believe that while anyone can tell a story, the ideas should belong to the people who come up with them, unless express permission is given by others to use them for their own purpose. I suppose as a writer myself Swift’s treachery hits harder than for others, but I don’t think anyone could really consider him on the winning side and really be championing him or his methods. It shows just how cut-throat the literary world can be. While the story’s ending also works very well, it’s a shame that we don’t see Swift ever get his comeuppance, not fully, and unlike the characters he’s presumably writing about, he neither changes or learns anything. On that front, he’s then not a very good character himself, but Boyne’s writing saves him. He’s not supposed to learn anything.

I enjoyed it all much more than I thought I would, to be honest – a fascinating cast of intelligent characters with skewed priorities.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Mr Lonely” by Eric Morecambe (1981)

Leave a comment

“It was Tuesday morning.”

Following the recent news that Simon Cowell is due to “write” a series of children’s books with his son, it’s stirred up feelings among the literati on Twitter regarding celebrities getting publishing contracts. Some of them can write, you can’t deny that, but it’s pretty rich when there are so many people out there who want nothing but to write getting looked over in favour of celebrities who have never publicly mentioned that desire before. Plus, the cynic in me has immediately assumed that the closest Cowell will get to doing any of the physical writing and story crafting is cashing the cheques. This is not a new phenomenon, however, and many celebrities have turned their hand to writing fiction when contemplating a career change. Eric Morecambe is, without question, one of my comedy heroes, but one does wonder if this venture into the page was necessary.

Sid Lewis is a stand-up comedian who earns low wages peddling his jokes in dingy smoky clubs. When not on stage, he’s busy chasing the dancing girls and singers who share his bill, even when he marries the sensible and stable Carrie who just wishes he’d get a proper job and doesn’t understand this desire to be the centre of attention. One night, Sid tries out a new character, the titular Mr Lonely, and when someone from the BBC sees it and offers him an opportunity of a lifetime, Sid’s life changes overnight.

Now one of the most famous comics in the country, Sid finds his appetites for women as strong as ever, but in this new life of champagne and limousines, things begin to catch up with him and it seems his excesses might finally have come back to haunt him. He may have finally got everything he wanted – but is he really happy?

You can tell it’s Morecambe, certainly. Despite the show having been written by Eddie Braben – among many others – he was a brilliant comic nonetheless and the book is sprinkled liberally with jokes, daft asides and silly characters that you can hear him saying to Ernie. Unfortunately, as many other people have said, it is “of it’s time”. I became worried that the book would ruin my view of Eric (a case of not only never meeting your heroes, but also never reading their fiction) but I’ve hoped for the best that the staggering number of sexist, racist and homophobic comments within the text are the views of Sid rather than Eric. It’s hard to read through those parts, and I’m not even sure the excuse of saying it is of its time is valid, as it was published in 1981, and the world was already making some steps towards sanity on those issues by then.

The biggest mystery surrounding the whole thing is that we never actually find out what Sid’s Mr Lonely character involves. Despite giving us the title, the character doesn’t show up until over halfway through the book, and then is given more as a throwaway line. He does the character, it goes well, is immediately seen by a man from the BBC and he’s got his own television show within months. The rise to fame is meteoric, but entirely unexplained. It’s almost like Morecambe couldn’t be bothered to come up with a concept, despite having shown us Sid on stage prior to this, complete with jokes. It seems an odd choice.

A second odd choice, but one that works, is the inclusion of Eric Morecambe as a character in his own right. It’s subtle, with the book being in third person for a long time until suddenly it slips into first and you realise that it’s Eric himself telling the story of Sid’s life, as if he really knew him and this was part of true comedy history. For a couple of chapters in the middle, then, Eric becomes the main character, talking about his relationship with Sid and his own career. This is an odd juxtaposition to include something that seems weirdly post-modern in a book where racism is taken as standard. Another highlight of the book is Morecambe’s references to other comedians of the day, sometimes revealing more than perhaps he means to regarding his feelings about them.

An interesting foray into literature from one of Britain’s best comics, but I can’t help thinking he should have kept to the stage.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Elevation” by Stephen King (2019)

Leave a comment

“Scott Carey knocked on the door of the Ellis condo unit, and Bob Ellis (everyone n Highland Acres still called him Doctor Bob, although he was five years retired) let him in.”

I have a love/hate relationship with Stephen King but, then again, I think everyone does. Sure, there is no denying his talent, but when you churn out as many books as he does, they can’t all be winners. Having been bitten in the past, but also having enjoyed others, I took a chance on his new book, Elevation, partly because the synopsis intrigued me, and partly because, well, it was short. If it turned out to be a dud, it wouldn’t take long. (I’ve become so cynical…)

Scott Carey knows that in Castle Rock gossip travels really fast, so he seeks out advice from just one person, his friend Dr Bob Ellis, about the peculiar symptoms he’s been displaying. He has started losing weight, one or two pounds a day, but there’s absolutely no physical difference to his pot-bellied figure. Even stranger, anything he’s holding while on the scales doesn’t seem to have any weight at all. Scott refuses to talk to anyone else about it, because he doesn’t want to become a science experiment or a freak show.

Elsewhere, a lesbian couple have recently moved to town and opened a new restaurant. While some of the neighbours might seem friendly and make use of Deirdre and Missy’s new place, others don’t seem so progressive. Scott’s only concern is that their dogs keep fouling on his lawn. With the town’s annual Thanksgiving race coming up, Deirdre is determined to win it so that the town has to pay attention to her.

Short and sweet, the book is fortunately not a dud. It’s just long enough to capture your attention and, aside from Scott’s mysterious weight loss, it’s all very real and not much actually happens. Scott is a pleasant enough person with some tragedy in his past that is only ever obliquely mentioned and he seems to want to get on with people rather than endure any conflict. Deirdre is an interesting one. She is one of those people who will leap to a defensive position whenever it seems anyone doesn’t like her and blame it on the fact that she’s a married lesbian, rather than because she’s just an abrasive person. No one denies that it’s harder to be a minority in many places in the world, but she certainly seems willing to use it as an excuse rather than adjust her own personality. Indeed, there is some hostility to her and Missy because of their sexuality, and the small town is perhaps not as picturesque to outsiders as it seems to those who live there.

The addition of an element of magical realism is fun and while this isn’t a horror, there is certainly a tension surrounding the text, with the inevitable question being, “What happens to Scott when he stops weighing anything?” The resolution is bittersweet, but fascinating, and ties things up nicely.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Death Of Mrs Westaway” by Ruth Ware (2018)

Leave a comment

“The magpies are back.”

I long for the day someone appears and hands me a big cheque informing me that I’ve won or inherited a lot of money and life will be a bit easier now. That kind of thing only happens in fiction though, and is the catalyst for the events of The Death of Mrs Westaway.

Harriet “Hal” Westaway is a young woman with a problem. Orphaned at eighteen and now three years on reading tarot cards on a Brighton pier and never quite knowing where the next rent money is coming from, she has had a very difficult and lonely life. She’s also now at risk of physical harm as she’s being stalked by a threatening loan shark who knows where she lives and isn’t afraid to mention the fact he’s broken bones before. Survival seems impossible, until she gets the letter. According to a lawyer in Penzance, her grandmother has died and left her a substantial estate.

There’s a slight problem though – Hal’s grandparents have been dead for decades. It’s clear that the letter has come to the wrong person, but Hal is desperate and with her years doing cold readings on people, she seems perfectly suited for conning her way into an inheritance she isn’t entitled to. The choice she makes will change everything, and before long she’s embroiled in a family that has more secrets than she ever thought possible. She just has to make sure no one finds out hers…

It’s a rollercoaster of a novel and just when you think you’ve got the hang of where it’s going, there’s another lurch to the side and you’re disoriented once again. The world is rich and haunting, the characters flawed but interesting and there’s a smoothness to the prose that means you find for every time you sit down to read one chapter you find you’ve read five instead. It’s moreish. It all feels very real too – with the exception of the fact that here Brighton’s West Pier still exists (a beautiful and touching inclusion) – and the honest, simple details that ground it in the real world make the paranoia and tension that build through the novel even more chilling. Throughout there are a lot of questions and we are left to make up our own mind, like Hal. And as any of us know, the mind is a dangerous thing and nothing will always be scarier than something.

I have a couple of questions left at the end regarding plot points that don’t get resolved and it’s one of those books that left me thinking, “But what happened next?” I don’t think Ware needs to do a sequel at all, but it would be interesting to know how everyone’s lives were changed after the events of this novel. A fascinating, tense read.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“There’s Only Two David Beckhams” by John O’Farrell (2015)

Leave a comment

“Back when I was at school, the careers advisor asked me if I had any private hopes or dreams.”

My interest in sport is negligible. I’ve nothing against games, and even the Olympics is quite fun, but organised sport where billions upon billions of pounds are funnelled in to a handful of people running up and down a field – no chance. Football is that for me. I don’t understand the appeal. I don’t get the hours of coverage we need to explain why it matters that a ball did or didn’t go into a net. I don’t understand how teams can buy players like some kind of modern slave trade. I don’t get the appeal of a reheated meat pie and standing out in the drizzle, and I pray that if I ever have children, they don’t show any interest in the game. And yet, here I am, finishing up a book about football and admitting that it was all kinds of enjoyable.

Alfie Baker is a sports journalist who is the polar opposite of me in that he lives and breathes the beautiful game. We join him in 2022 at the Qatar World Cup, where against all expectations, England have made it into the final with a team that seems truly unbeatable. Alfie, however, has become convinced that there is more to this team than means the eye. Certain there is a scandalous secret behind the new line up, he finds himself threatened by higher powers in the government to shut down the investigation, but when the likes of Greg Dyke and Tony Blair start getting in touch, he realises that he really has uncovered something big. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that that midfielder performs just like David Beckham, and that defender uses the same techniques as Bobby Moore…

After years of wondering who the best English team would be, they’re finally here, but now Alfie is faced with a choice. All his life he’s wanted to see England win the World Cup – and they’re in the final against Germany, no less – but if he reveals the truth, it could see his dreams dashed. Will he choose love or duty? All’s fair in love, war and football.

From early on, you know exactly where it’s going, but you don’t mind. I’ve read John O’Farrell before and he’s effortlessly funny, no more so than here. I can’t pretend to understand every reference, and some of the prolonged scenes where there’s actually football being played and described in the painful detail that I can’t begin to be interested in are a bit much, but generally, this is a total riot, and not in the bad football hooligan way. The characters are daft, and the story weaves in real people with hilarious results. Packed with one-liners and full of silly ideas, it’s one of those books that I would press into many hands.

Some of the daftest stuff comes from the gap between the book’s publication (2015) and the current year (2020). O’Farrell has had to create the events of the 2018 World Cup, the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, and several other football championships to boot. (Question: why are there so bloody many?) He couldn’t have foreseen last year’s news that Russia wouldn’t be allowed to attend the 2022 World Cup, for one, but he does get a laugh from suggesting that the Vatican City finally field a team for the first time – only to beat England in their first outing.

It’s hugely satirical, pretty predictable, but too funny to dislike. It’s a love letter to a world that I will never be a part of, and there’s a lot in here about fairness, passion and patriotism, although the good kind. As Alfie himself says, “Patriotism is simple; you can be proud of anything and anywhere – just don’t ever use it to denigrate anyone else.” At the end of the day, that’s the best performance we can hope for.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Next Person You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom (2018)

Leave a comment

“This is a story about a woman named Annie, and it begins at the end, with Annie falling from the sky.”

I rally against sequels a lot. More often than not they serve as a way for someone to cash in on a previously great story with a slightly worse story that wasn’t really needed. Of course there are exceptions – Toy Story 2 and Shrek 2, for example – but it’s a good rule of thumb. Sometimes we have to let stories standalone. The trouble is, of course, no story really is told in a vacuum. It links to thousands of others. Mitch Albom has used this technique to the full in the beautiful sequel to the truly excellent The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

In the original book, we focus on Eddie, an elderly war veteran who dies saving the life of a little girl. He ascends to the afterlife where he is met by five people who impacted his life and teach him a lesson he must learn from it. At the end of his novel, he takes his place in the queue to meet the girl he saved. This is her story.

Annie has just got married, but the marriage is doomed as within hours, she and her husband Paulo are in a devastating hot air balloon crash. Annie feels herself go under the anaesthetic when she gets to hospital, but she wakes up in the afterlife, meeting the first of her five people. She now undertakes the same journey as Eddie once did, meeting five people who changed her life, including the doctor who reattached her hand after it was lost in the accident, her strong, protective mother, and Eddie himself.

There aren’t many books that bring a tear to my eye, but this one certainly did. The original tale is one of my favourite books and while I’d not held out much hope, I think I’d always been curious to know what had happened to the little girl. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the idea of sonder, that feeling that everyone you meet has their own story and a life as complex as your own, but you only get to play a part in a few of them. This book, and the previous, play that up to the max. Annie is a sweet person, not perfect, but more courageous than she lets herself believe and the sort of woman I would like to be friends with. It’s nice to see Eddie again, less grizzled than we first knew him. The story is by its very nature quite tragic, but like all the best books, hope still shines through.

That’s always what goodness boils down to – hope. There is always hope. Belief in an afterlife in itself is a hopeful act, and while I’m not religious and don’t really think there is anything after “this”, there are worse things to encounter on the other side than five people with important messages.

A beautiful, powerful story. I love it.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

“Fox” by Anthony Gardner (2016)

Leave a comment

“As dawn broke over London, the sound of a horse’s hoofs echoed along Oxford Street.”

As the world continued to fall apart last week in a somewhat concerning landslide election victory here in the UK, I vowed that I’d give up on reading dystopian fiction until things had righted themselves again. I thought Fox might be a welcome distraction, realising only too late that it was just another dystopia. Nevertheless, I was committed and thus began one of the silliest adventures of modern times.

Foxes across Europe are spreading disease. The rabies-like epidemic is incurable and fast-spreading, and there is some concern that it’ll find a way to cross the sea and reach Britain where a paranoid Prime Minister has reintroduced fox hunting to cull the huge population of urban foxes that have caused so much damage in the cities that whole streets in London have caved in. While on a visit to China, the Prime Minister learns of a surveillance system called Mulberry Tree which allows the Chinese government to spy on anyone in the country. Under the guise of protecting the population from fox flu, the Prime Minister sees a way to get this technology into Britain, too.

Elsewhere, a Christian faction called the Brothers of Light are suspected of foul play, two animal rights activists are facing the consequences of trying to free a bear from London Zoo, Frank Smith is relishing his role as London’s Master of Foxhounds and believes that the flu has finally reached Britain, and a university professor has found out the truth regarding Mulberry Tree and is trying to smuggle evidence from China to a medical friend in Northumbria. That’s all still before we get to a lovestruck bureaucrat, two Chinese assassins, the beautiful missionary trying to escape China, and the innovative Pu Dong Pudding Company. As everyone races to their intended happy endings, their stories begin to tangle and merge and life will never be the same again for anyone.

There are so many threads in this novel that, at first, all seem to be so wildly disparate that you can’t begin to fathom what they’ve all got to do with one another. When they begin to come together, then, it gives one goosebumps. While some of the overlaps are down to sheer coincidence, most of them are not, and even though everyone has a very different goal in mind, it’s fun to watch them compromise and help one another in increasingly amusing ways. Gardner is also certainly a man who doesn’t let a plot thread hang. At first you think he has, but as the book winds down, three of them resolve themselves satisfactorily – one of them being something that I’d entirely forgotten about.

The ending, however, leaves a little to be desired. We see vaguely what has happened to the main characters in the interim, but the overarching story line regarding fox flu and the Mulberry Tree project remains a cliffhanger. Was a cure found? Are there other infected foxes in Britain? Is fox hunting banned again if the disease is wiped out? Does China stop using Mulberry Tree technology? We will never know for sure.

Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters. We can guess where it’s going, and we can hope that it’s in a positive direction. The story is still good and it’s tightly-plotted, with throwaway lines and characters suddenly becoming important later on. The writing itself is somewhat reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse, and the whole thing is very British with a solid sense of humour and a good degree of farce. Some of the notions are amusing too, such as fox hunters having moved from the countryside into the inner cities, swapping horses for bikes as they seek out foxes around Marble Arch and Hyde Park. None of it makes fox hunting a more palatable activity, but it’s an amusing concept executed well.

While not what I was expecting – the dealings with fox hunters are just one small story of several overlapping ones – it’s still a fun read, proving that Orwell’s thoughts of a government that wants to watch everything its people are doing have never really gone away.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

Older Entries