August 2009 Archives

Killing God

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Kevin Brooks
Penguin
978-0141319124
June 2009



Killing God is Kevin Brooks' ninth novel and it's as fine as anything he's written. Of his previous work it has most in common with his third novel, Kissing The Rain, a book that was told in the unforgettable, stream of consciousness voice of an overweight boy, Moo Nelson.
The voice dominating Brooks' latest novel is that of a 15 year old girl called Dawn Bundy, obsessed with the music of The Jesus And Mary Chain (to the extent of calling her two dogs Jesus and Mary, much to the annoyance of her church-attending neighbours) and constantly referring back to when she was 13 years old, a time when something of huge signficance happened to turn her into the reclusive "totally unattractive" person she now considers herself to be.
Just as with Kissing The Rain, it is not sufficient to describe this as a story told in the first-person. What we get in this novel is much more than a narrative. We get the experience of feeling completely at one with the character, not merely following her story, but experiencing life as she experiences it, hearing the frequently quoted Jesus and Mary Chain lyrics in our head, sensing the menacing discomfort when the normally unfriendly Mel and Taylor visit her and spend time in her bedroom plying her with alcohol.
It seems to me that Brooks does something even more impressive than Joyce's famous Molly Bloom soliloquy, because he manages to have Dawn slip seamlessly between her stream of consciousness inner monologue, and her recounting of both past and present incidents. We gradually learn that the striking title of the novel (given a fittingly striking typographical cover design by http://the-parish.com/) is linked to the disappearance of her father, a character every bit as shambolic as Frank Gallagher from the TV series Shameless, who shortly before his disappearance became a God addict, making Dawn and her mother's life more unbearable than ever.
Since he's been gone, mother and daughter have been able to indulge and console themselves in various material luxuries - a big flastscreen TV, laptop, ipod etc. - thanks to a bag of cash the father left behind. This becomes a key factor in the developing climax of the book, as does the the trigger for the father's disappearance two years previously.
Of the book's ending I can say only that it makes the novel's title entirely apposite.
There are the de rigeur 'grateful acknowledgements' to Jim & William Reid for permission to use The Jesus And Mary Chain lyrics. I dare say the Scottish brothers are fairly grateful to Brooks in return for giving their music such high profile and thereby winning them new fans.



Ice Shock

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M. G. Harris
Scholastic
9781407104034
March 2009
I'd dipped into the first Joshua Files title, Invisible City, and into this book as well, sufficiently enough to be able to know that they were well-written pacy adventures but Ice Shock is the first I have read from cover to cover. Assisted by good publisher publicity and promotion (which has included video trailers), clever presentation (the paperbacks have come in colourfully translucent plastic slipcases), and the well-judged online presence of the author herself (M. G. Harris has her own website, blog and twitter), the Joshua Files series is already, and deservingly so, a publishing success. Fans have to wait until early 2010 for the third installment, and after the stunning climactic pages of this novel, I imagine that for many readers, especially those who read the book 6 months ago when it was first released, that will be a wait too long. Despite not having read Invisible City I had no trouble being sucked into the action of Ice Shock. There are many escapades and close shaves for the main character, Josh, before, in the course of a truly compelling finale, the significance of the book's title becomes apparent. Harris handles the Mexican backdrop to her narrative (both in terms of location and history) skillfully and cleverly combines it with nuggets of pseudo science and archaeology to leave the reader suitably poised between understanding and puzzlement. This is simply great storytelling on a level suited to the audience. Josh's blog entries are used to help consolidate elements of the storyline - a helpful narrative technique - but in a way that makes complete sense in terms of Josh's need to keep his actions and whereabouts secret.



hush, hush

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Becca Fitzpatrick
Gollancz
9781847386946
November 2009
There's much to admire in this debut novel, due for publication in November 2009, and not the least is its lack of pretension. Hush, Hush is a novel written to entertain and not to impress. There was a brief moment midway through the book when I thought I was going to regret the fact that the fallen-angel theme was being taken literally rather than metaphorically, fearing that I would find the rest of the narrative somewhat preposterous. But Fitzpatrick is already a sufficiently skillful storyteller to be able to carry the reader along and create the necessary suspension of disbelief. This is all done in the atmosphere of a Sunday afternoon feature film. I can't say I was ever seriously moved or unsettled by the predicaments the main character, Nora, finds herself in, but I was always fully engaged. The relationship between 17-year-old Nora, her best friend Vee, and Patch, the sinister but dangerously alluring boy who comes between them, is very adroitly handled in the first half of the novel, in short well-orchestrated dialogue-driven scenes that one can imagine transferring well to the movie screen. And cinema certainly seems to be an influence on some of the setpieces towards the end of the book (I think particularly of Nora's encounter with Dabria). As is inevitable with a book of this type, there is much in the way that the different characters' motives are explained towards the end of the novel that is farfetched, but I didn't mind that, since it was so clearly signalled that this was the type of book i was reading. I would much rather have done without the short Prologue, set in the Loire Valley, 1565. For me, that came across as very 'Pseud's Corner'ish, and was the one false note in an otherwise highly accomplished first novel.



The Forest Of Hands & Teeth

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Carrie Ryan
Gollancz
9780575090842
July 2009
I feel very ambivalent about this debut novel. And I think that is largely because it is ambivalent about itself. It is essentially, and in its denouement has the honesty to admit it at last, a zombie novel. A village is making its last stand against the infection that surrounds them. A deliberately knowing but misjudged withholding of narrative information concerning the infected 'Unconsecrated' keeps the reader in the dark for far too long. The suggestions that the book is some sort of religious allegory are laid on very heavily. Consequently, as a reader the novel only hooked me in short bursts. When it did so it hooked me good (especially towards the end when the storyline has become a more straightforward fight for survival against the zombie hordes), but that only made the dull and pretentious patches the more disappointing. As a reviewer I found myself frustrated by the narrator's plaintive tone of voice. The book is written in contemporary fiction's perniciously pervasive first-person continuous present and it is the worse for that. On the plus side, there is some very effective writing here, both in terms of describing action and describing the main character's emotions. I'd certainly read another book by Ryan. I'm not sure it will be The Dead-Tossed Waves, coming in 2010, and a return to the world of the Unconsecrated.


The Storyteller's Secret

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Tony Mitton, ill. Peter Bailey
David Fickling
978 0 385 61509 9
Jun 2009
What's so good about this book? Lots of things, but the structure is particularly neat, since it conjures up the experience of a live storytelling event. The reader, or listener, fulfils the role of audience for the storyteller, who is known simply as 'Teller'. The author vividly portrays for us the village setting and the character of the storyteller who appears one day and opens up new ways of thinking.

The verse style is accessible, direct, trippy and light, and it often makes you smile. 'It is a story handed down/from many a year ago/The tale's been told by many a tongue/but I have told it so.' Some of the stories grab you by the throat, for example the unusual 'The Seal Hunter' with its haunting black line illustrations, and 'The Pedlar of Swaffham' about a man who not only follows his dream, but also makes the most of another man's dream about treasure buried at the foot of a plum tree. 'Tam Lim' is a story that sets you on the edge of your seat as you urge the female protagonist to be sufficiently brave and strong. It works well interposing the verse with prose lines that set the scene for the next story.

The episodic presentation is mesmerising. Although the Teller returns each day with a new story rather than moving on to the next village to tell the same or similar story to a different audience, there is a clear sense of the two children participating in the unfolding narrative, and growing as a result. And in the same way that storytellers often provide tactile objects for the audience to share (my best experience of this was at the telling of an Armenian story, where the audience was presented with little red jewels from a pomegranate), so this book provides the reader and listener with a fragment from each of the five stories: 'and each holds a spell:/a curious story/to cherish and tell.'

I smiled at the author's self-promotion of his art, demonstrating this through the children's reactions: 'they knew now that a story from Teller was not to be missed.' You may well find that you set out to read one tale and are urged to carry on by your listeners, drawn into the music of the book like the children of Hamelin. It's also beautifully presented, with a part-cloth binding in sumptuous purple.

Reviewed by ALISON BOYLE


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