Tuesday, December 27, 2016

back to books

Greetings Reader

And so, for the last time this year, I’ve managed to plough my way through another two books, look you see. I think that would make about a dozen I have read this year, perhaps fourteen if lucky. Once again, to be sure, this is so very sadly down from the 24 – 36 I was able to read when I could take the bus to verk, but Arriva, as frequent visitors to my blog will be all too aware, decided that the ambition of public transport should be to run as few buses as possible.

What two books did I read this time, then? Strangely two works by British writers set, ostensibly, in other lands. First off it’s a recurring author here in the form of Peter Robinson with one called No Cure For Love, and then it was on to something called Our Endless Numbered Days, a debut novel off of Claire Fuller.

A quick, as standard, spoiler free review of both? Of course. No Cure For Love is a non-Banks, mostly non-British set novel and is good with some flaws. Our Endless Numbered Days is, frankly, rubbish, and I am genuinely baffled by the awards and positive reviews out there for it.

From here on out, then, please note that a *** SPOILER WARNING *** is in place. This is particularly true of Our Endless Numbered Days, for I cannot highlight what makes it so bad without giving the game away. Which, in fairness, the author herself does within the first few pages of the book anyhow.

Whilst you let the spoiler warning sink in, a standard disclaimer. Links are absolutely no affiliation, endorsement or promotion off of me; they are here just for convenience for you if you want to have a gander at prices, etc.

Right, starting off with No Cure For Love, then. Provenance of my copy? I was somewhat tricked into buying it. In January of 2016 I was in a Waterstones, and they had a pile of copies in their new release section with a class “half price” sticker on them. I assumed it was a new one off Peter Robinson and bought it; as it turns out it’s a reissue of a rarely non-DCI Banks novel off him from 20 years ago. But, hey, as I’d not read it this was still a “new” novel to me.

Plot? Sarah Broughton is a Yorkshire born actress living in LA. She stars in a popular TV series, and so as a consequence receives a lot of bizarre and bewildering fan mail. One letter spooks her, though, as it unquestionably refers to a somewhat murky past. A detective called Arvo is called in to investigate. Whilst Sarah returns home for Christmas to face the family she left behind, Arvo must find the fan fast as they seem to be leaving quite a trail of bodies.

Overall this is actually rather good. In terms of the main plot tension builds up well, and the twists and turns are very effective indeed. Bereft of his usual British settings, Robinson is forced to write of police doing police work – there’s no English way of doing things here, which is to say crimes are not solved either by coppers sitting in a pub thinking or by the villain simply handing themselves in for no reason.

It would, in truth, be a whole lot better of a novel if the entire “return to Robin Hood’s Bay” sub-plot had been ditched entire. This bit features some rather tired, by the motions depictions of family tensions and the return of a child home, but just takes up time in doing so. Absolutely zero character development or plot movement happens.

It’s amazing that, so far as I am aware, this one has not been bought and filmed by Hollywood. In this novel Hollywood darlings are shown to be the most perfect and innocent of pure heroism; exactly how they love to project themselves in their movies. And why not, for they control the train set. Buy the rights, ditch the entire return to England for Christmas sub-plot and you have a very decent two hour detective film.

Our Endless Numbered Days, then. Oh dear. Provenance of my copy? 50p off of a charity donation stall at a hospital. As friends and family will know, I’ve spent a fair bit of time visiting hospitals this year, and in doing so was able to pick up some novels in support.

Plot? You saw the spoiler warnings, yeah? A young girl in the 70s, Peggy, has interesting parents. Her father, James, is one of them leftie types from that time, convinced that nuclear war is coming. Her mother, Ute, is a renowned German concert pianist. Whilst the mother is away playing a concert series, James decides to take Peggy away, to an uninhabited forest in Germany. There they set up home in an abandoned lodge called “Die Hutte”. James informs Peggy that all other life has been wiped out, and they alone are the last two people on the planet left alive.

The above to me sounded like a spin, or if you like homage, or if you prefer honesty a total rip off of My Side Of The Mountain, a novel I remember very fondly from my younger days. At times it tries to borrow from this, but fails. As it pretty much does at every possible level.

Firstly, the novel starts off after Peggy has come home – nine years later. So you know she survives the time in the forest. You don’t know the specific details of how and why, but you know that the father has not returned. So there goes all the suspense and possible interest of if and how they will survive. In terms of the how, there’s some brief hint of nearly starving but then in a very “English way of doing things” approach, they simply make do and get on, with scant insight given into how this is possible.

A read of the positive reviews out there suggest most were impressed with the “dysfunctional family” and “psychological breakdown” of it all. Each to their own, but I do hope they find better examples. Indeed the predictable and inevitable happens between the pair – super ham-fisted clues and hints at this eventually give way to a horrible, tacked on feeling ending.

Parts of Our Endless Numbered Days are well written, and give hope that it’s just a bit of clumsy first novel syndrome going on in the ham-fisted parts. Alas, no. This is something of a miserable and tiresome reading experience, and in no way is this redeemed by any sense of value from the conclusions drawn at the end of it.

And so there you go. Yes I have indeed started reading the next novel on my list – one with quite a rude name, and one that Spiros sent to me. As the last book he sent to me, HHhH, was the finest novel I had read this year, I felt it best to trust his choice once more.

Hopefully these reviews, comments or what have you have been of use. I do feel like maybe I have missed something as I seem to be going against the tide in my views on Our Endless Numbered Days, but I can only tell you how I reacted to it.

More as and when, then, more as and when.

Be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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