J.'s Reviews > Half Broken Things

Half Broken Things by Morag Joss
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Nov 20, 11

bookshelves: mystery, gothic, morag-joss

Faulty Towers

An unlikely exposition eventually grinds into gear and once settled in, the remaining two-thirds of this Murphy's-Law fable are increasingly engrossing.

Morag Joss has read her Rendell, her Highsmith, and also her Poe; what we have here is a tale of grotesques, enlarged & protean creatures that are forced into smaller and smaller corners by their own actions. The alternating senses of pressure and release, panic and calm are the dynamic of the plot. (Unfortunately, the Stephen King parallels are there, too, and not necessary; this has way too much going for it in its solemn core to have to get close to that line...)

Perhaps the nearest near-relative is Shirley Jackson in her Everyday-Gothic best; while the days pass with a regularity (let's make jam ! let's see if there's champagne in the cellar !) and calm incompatible with the circumstances, our happy grotesques are never able to diverge from the disastrous inevitable, and that's the ongoing suspense here.

Author Joss gets her ducks in a row by the halfway point of the book and manages an effective, deluxe coup de théâtre with the return of the grandfather. Arriving late in the second act, this stroke propels the rest of the novel to it's impending appointment with ... what's coming.

Looking forward to the next in Morag Joss' catalog; there is much here that is already the mark of a very accomplished plot and atmosphere writer. The prose itself is exquisite, by turns rapturous, enchanted, and then convincingly raw. What's left is character, and that's the quibble. Her lovely grotesques are by no means regular characters, and that's fine, they're meant to be maniacs. But not plausible or predictable from one scene to the next --(near-suicidal, hyperdepressive, shy Michael masquerading as a posh lord of the estate to fool the authorities ? ..) --tears a little, even at the fable level.

My hope is that she either takes it to the limit, drawing even more outlandish lunatics and madmen or, better, tightens the reins a bit more and brings her maniacs more intimately into the fabric of the everyday mania we live in. The Rendellian split-screen narative requires a strict (even, especially, if mad--) coherence, and a deft interweave. And I think that's where Joss is headed, but we shall see...

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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Daisy Nice.


message 2: by J. (new) - rated it 4 stars

J. This was great; just hope the next books keep raising the bar. How do you pronounce Morag Joss ? I keep assuming it's like a lot of brit-isle names, just a letter or two off our pronunciation, so I'm saying Morag like Laura -- Maura, Moira ... (?)


Daisy I knew a Morag and she pronounced it the way it looks, hard G and everything.


message 4: by J. (new) - rated it 4 stars

J. Well that's it then; & thanks for recommending this book, I nearly forgot to mention; right up my street.


message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 04, 2013 08:02AM) (new)

I think I actually love this review: perfectly executed and it mirrors my feelings while reading Half Broken Things, exactly. Nice comparison with Shirley Jackson. Did you go on to read any more Joss? I did ( Puccini's Ghosts and The Night Following - so disappointing.


message 6: by J. (new) - rated it 4 stars

J. thanks, nice of you to say; haven't followed up yet, though; so many books ...


Daisy Among the Missing was very good.


message 8: by J. (new) - rated it 4 stars

J. That's the one I have in the queue; looking forward to it.


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