Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Children Act - Ian McEwan

Review by M

On the whole, I consider myself an Ian McEwan fan and am readily willing to give his novels a go with the expectation that I will become ensconced in them. The Children Act was no exception to this.

A short novel, The Children Act is about a high court judge working in family law. Ironically, we meet her just as her husband has an affair. While she struggles with this internally she must, or chooses, to simply carry on with her legal workload as if nothing has happened. The reader is given some lengthy insight into her cases, many of which revolve around child custody and dilemmas over interpreting what is best for the child in line with the actual, legal Children Act. The bulk of the story really focuses on an interesting case of a seventeen year old Jehovah's Witness who is resisting a blood transfusion.  This element of the novel held my interest and attention for hours and is the element that I remember most (I read it a few months back), and I would recommend the novel to other readers simply for this aspect. The final section of the novel was a disappointment. It felt rushed, and much of it seemed improbable to me.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. McEwan's writing is smooth and makes for a quick and compelling read. I may have read it in close to one go.

Publication details: 2014, Jonathan Cape, London
This copy: digital review copy from the publisher

Monday, 19 January 2015

This Should Be Written In the Present Tense - Helle Helle

Review by M

Hands up - of course I was going to read a novel by an author called Helle Helle. And I was also predisposed to expecting it to be a little different from everything else I was currently reading, and not least because it's been translated from Danish.

The story is about Dorte who has just moved in to a little house near a railway station not too far from Copenhagen where she is at university. From the first few pages, the tone is cosily friendly but boom, it throws a few jaggedy bits in and the reader is left questioning exactly what has or has not happened, or even is happening, and lots of whats and whys steer the novel. This is not sci-fi or fantasy, but much more about inner psychologies.

This short novel follows the everyday details of Dorte's unexciting life and I found it strangely compelling - perhaps because her life seemed so at odds with everything I expected she would do. Personally, I'm not sure if this is because of the writing or because of differences between continental Europe and Britain. My engagement with this novel was similar to my responses to some quietly gritty/raw French cinema.

This Should Be Written In the Present Tense definitely lived up to my expectations; it's a quiet and strangely surprising novel that mostly made me smile.

Publication details: Harvill Secker, 2014, London
This copy: digital review copy from the publisher

Catalyst - S.J.Kincaid

Review by Little M

Catalyst is the third and final novel in S.J.Kincaid’s Insignia trilogy. Starring Tom Raines as the main character, in his last year training for the Intrasolar Forces, Tom is on a mission to stay out of trouble and save the world at the same time. However, staying out of trouble seems to be proving difficult. With his friends Vik, Wyatt, Yuri and his plebs he discovers horrific schemes involving the Spire (training centre) and the globe.
Many third novels in trilogies seem to be a disappointment for many, some leave questions unanswered and others, theories unexplained. Contradicting this is Catalyst. Kincaid ties up the story with no loose ends and unanswered questions. For some it could be disappointing but personally I thought it was ended beautifully. It left the reader able to imagine how the society will continue with a little guidance.
Over all three novels Tom Raines has progressed as a character. Firstly he has grown up, although he still possesses the troublemaker traits; he has grown from being a boy, not fully understanding his potential, to a young man who is capable of most unimaginable things such as “break through the impossible”.
This has been one of my favourite series I have read and I fully recommend it to most teens and some adults too. However, it does contain many “teenage” events or thoughts so may not suit adults. It is most definitely suitable for both boys and girls so neither should be put off by any aspect.

Publication Details: Hot Key Books, London, published in the UK in 2014 (US 2014).

This copy: Paperback copy received for review from Hot Key Books.

The Dog - Joseph O'Neill

Review by M

The Dog was longlisted for the Man Booker 2014.

I never thought I'd ever sympathise with a Dubai-based westerner, but The Dog proved me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would especially recommend it to anyone who's ever/never worked/lived in or visited Dubai or who wrestles with moral dilemmas and ethics. Anyone who likes ink stamps or letter seals may well enjoy this too.

The narrator and main character is an American lawyer wallowing in the aftermath of a newly broken romantic relationship and has taken a very cushy looking job as a lawyer to a super-duper rich Lebanese family based in Dubai. The plot follows his related trials and tribulations, with some very drawn out internal debates (some readers may find these sections tedious but I quite enjoyed reading them).

Threaded through this plot are a series of interconnected master and servant relationships, as our naive narrator comes to realise. The realisation about the extended metaphor of the dog - for me (and perhaps for the narrator too) - was at times funny (sometimes very) but over-ridingly sad. Oh, what a loveable but frustrating character O'Neill has created.

The direction of the plot is slightly predictable, which adds to the sense of frustration, although the ending was not what I expected - though very plausible.

A review in The Guardian suggested that The Dog is too similar in many ways to O'Neill's earlier novel Neverland. I haven't read Neverland but I enjoyed The Dog so much, I'm happy to search out some more-of-the-same or even better in his other work.

Publication details: Fourth Estate, 2014, London
This copy: digital copy for review from the publisher