This book calls the cloying atmosphere of The Little Strangerto mind, along with the 'hiding in plain view' romance of The Night WatchThe Night Watch,This book calls the cloying atmosphere of The Little Strangerto mind, along with the 'hiding in plain view' romance of The Night WatchThe Night Watch, yet it doesn't deliver in the way that those two previous Sarah Waters novels did. The plotting is the problem, I think. The first two-thirds is the slow build of a romance behind closed doors in a house that is haunted by the past, with occupants trying to adjust to a different world. Then, in the last part, it becomes a tightly wound story about a murder trial, which tests the romance to its very core. Waters builds her central character meticulously, letting us in to her motivations slowly, stripping away at her until she's utterly vunerable, but the pay off could never match this build-up. It's beautifully written, though, full of perfectly crafted metaphor, description, set-pieces and characters, and as in all other Waters' novels, an acute sense of time and place. I just wish it didn't leave me feeling disappointed on the final page with what seemed like a foregone conclusion....more
At the beginning of Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World, Stephen Shulevitz’s world as he knows it comes to an end. He’s reached the sudden realisaAt the beginning of Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World, Stephen Shulevitz’s world as he knows it comes to an end. He’s reached the sudden realisation that he’s in love with his best buddy, Mark, and that he desperately wants to kiss him.
This is a ‘coming out’ novel. You know from the opening scene that Stephen will have to overcome a series of emotional obstacles before eventually coming to terms with his sexuality; that towards the end he’s going to tell Mark that he fancies him, for better or worse; and that there’s going to be some deep issues with Stephen’s parents that he’s going to have to sort out along the way. There’ll probably be a story arc featuring Stephen’s close female friend too. As with any romance novel, where the two paramours are introduced in the opening chapter and you know that on the very last page they will get together, the table is set for a three-course meal you’ve consumed several versions of before.
The desire to keep reading a novel in such a well-trodden genre is founded in questions about how the journey will unfold, and the mark of success is whether it keeps the reader questioning.
Luckily Cameron knows how to keep the questions popping up. She's a talented writer, and the journey she takes us on is always pleasurable, sometimes moving, and has a lyrical literary style that separates it from the masses of ‘coming out’ fiction that litter the queer cannon. It also dares, at times, to jumble up the equation and come up with different answers, as in a later reunion scene between Stephen and his absent, drop-out Dad, Stanley, in which a lesser novelist would have given her readers warm, fuzzy emotional resolution. Before any conclusion is reached, Stanley says: “I think this conversation has run its course.” Stephen, instead of getting his father to say he loves him, is left in confusion, and Cameron resists any urge to move Stanley centre stage again for the tying up of loose ends.
The tale is set in 1987, mostly in the small Canadian town of Riverside, where boredom rather than outright prejudice drives the violent motivations of its teenage population. Cameron clearly loves the eighties. The book is filled with playful cultural references to the era. When Stephen contemplates suicide, he does so through the filter of watching an umpteenth Friday The 13th sequel. At the inevitably excruciating prom, he dances with rebellious abandonment to Aha’s The Sun Always Shines on TV.
He may be surrounded by stalwarts of the genre – the best girlfriend (Lana) who secretly fancies him, the ambivalent but unavailable love interest, the school bullies – but its in her depiction of supporting characters, like Lana’s immigrant father, Mr. Kovalenko (“a look on his face like he’d been chewing old sardines”), and Stephen’s fleeting, sexually gluttonous girlfriend, Tina Thompson, with her “muscular tongue”, that Cameron really lights up. Stephen himself is a sharply drawn protagonist, his teenage view of the world suitably cynical, but underlined with almost poetic, acute observation.
Towards the end the inevitable happens, and as Stephen’s orientation becomes known to his peers, he becomes more and more vulnerable. Cameron isn’t afraid to shift the lighthearted tone of the first half of the novel into much darker territory, and during the penultimate, chaotic scene between Stephen and Mark, you begin to think this might not turn out the way all ‘coming out’ novels turn out, after all.
You’ll have to read the book to find out if it does, but in the meantime I’m taking bets that Cameron’s second novel will leave the ‘coming out’ genre behind. She’s simply a writer, a good one, who likes to tell a cracking story. That this story is about a gay boy finding himself is incidental....more
Although I wasn't a huge fan of The Curious Incident, I loved Mark Haddon's second adult novel, A Spot of Bother. I think he is brilliant at writing tAlthough I wasn't a huge fan of The Curious Incident, I loved Mark Haddon's second adult novel, A Spot of Bother. I think he is brilliant at writing the dynamics of family, the mixture of love, resentment, competition, annoyance and friendship that comes with having parents and siblings. While A Spot of Bother was quite comedic, and very moving, in its exploration of the breakdown of a parent, The Red Room is a much darker take on family dynamics altogether. But it's nonetheless gripping and beautifully written. An estranged brother and sister, Angela and Richard, go on holidays together in rural Wales with their respective families after the death of their mother, and the story unfolds over a week staying in The Red House. The younger characters were the most interesting to me, particularly the 16 year-old self-serving, calculating bully Melissa, and catastrophically confused Jesus-freak Daisy, who is the same age. The relationship that develops between the two, who have only met each other for the first time is much more the excruciating heart of this book than the one between Angela and Richard. Whereas A Spot of Bother ended with a sense of resolution, by the time the book ends, the two families go their separate ways and few conclusions have been come to, except maybe for Daisy who has come to a moment of self-realisation. Hovering over this book is the imagined ghost of Angela's stillborn first child, Karen, and she makes for a genuinely creepy presence, even if she ends up being the glue that just may hold this disparate group of people together. A fine read, full of wonderful literary tricks and quirks, but I'm a sucker for resolution, so it left me feeling a little frustrated. ...more
I was thoroughly enjoying this book until one third the way through, when Dodger stopped the murderous activities of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber ofI was thoroughly enjoying this book until one third the way through, when Dodger stopped the murderous activities of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. Previously to meeting Sweeney, Dodger has met and made friends of the real-life personages of Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew, and the ruse was nice, the idea that Dodger was a real person who influenced the creation of the Artful Dodger in Dickens' Oliver Twist. Mayhew, less well knob, also existed and was the co-founder of the satirical Punch magazine.
But Sweeney Todd is a London myth, he never existed. His introduction threw the narrative off for me, swerving it away from the reality that I want all books to create. I could feel the presence of the author being far too clever for his own good, and in the end it left me believing very little in Dodger at all.
Having said that the writing is superb, the descriptions of London's filthy streets and sewers really pitch you in the middle of it, and there's a great sense of humour underpinning the book. It's a pity - for me anyway - that Pratchett decided to point out so early on that it was all just a fantasy....more