Some books are brilliant because they open your eyes to human conditions you know nothing about it, and they take you somewhere where you’ve never been before. Other books are brilliant because they make you look inwardly, within yourself, and face your own fears, or your past or your internal demons. Falling Short falls within the second category.
I was sucked into the world of Frances and Jackson because so much of it I recognised as my own. Partly because their story in the present time is set in a school and I know that working environment intimately having taught now for well over ten years. The teachers, their sentiments and resentments are spot on. Some of the observations made me laugh out loud.
But the book is absorbing on a deeper level too. I was able to identify with what the characters were going through, particularly Jackson and his fragmented, compartmentalised identity which he so aptly smothered with cynicism and apparent lack of ambition. Which one of us had not made life-obliterating mistakes that led to us to being judged harshly, running away and feeling that maybe others were a bit too harsh on us because we hadn’t meant to do it, or to hurt anyone, least of all ourselves? How many of us can articulate our feelings well and without inhibition?
And Frances? How many of us have felt at least once in our lives that we were going nowhere, blundering from one disaster to another? Though we could still put on Madonna’s ‘Pappa Don’t Preach’ and dance to it in those precious few moments of subconscious carpe-diem madness? The writing to describe those, and other, moments is vibrant, breathless and vivid, like here: “she’d kicked off her shoes, and her arms were raised above her head as her long body undulated with the unmoored urgency of a sheet hung out in a high wind.”
This book will touch a nerve, and you will love it for it.
Socially, Eleanor Oliphant is far from fine. She is an emotional cavewoman: awkward, technologically retarded and blunt. She lives in a straitjacket of habit: work, pizza, crosswords, vodka. She speaks as if she has learned English by studying Jane Austin on a different planet – her language is antiquated, her expressions woodenly proper. She dresses hideously in a sexless jerkin and Velcro shoes, carrying around a shopper bag wherever she goes. People annoy her and she is judgmental about them in return in the most hilarious way imaginable. The only person she communicates with regularly is Mummy who routinely puts Eleanor down. Other than that, Eleanor is alone. Her loneliness is acute though she doesn’t realise that.
And then Raymond, an IT guy from work, reaches out to her. It isn’t romantic (Eleanor has other – comical – romantic interests). It is just simple kindness. Eleanor begins to open up like a little flower touched by the early-morning sun. She takes the reader on a journey into her horrifying past. I won’t betray the story. Suffice to say that towards the end I was smiling through tears. A loveable story.
Monsignor Quixote, as the title implies, is Graham Greene’s tribute to Cervantes’s opus magnum. I read Don Quixote in my teens, and though many lofty themes were naturally lost on me, I loved the spirit of that book and the character of a raving-mad knight imposter taking on windmills, wearing a barber’s basin for a helmet.
Greene has done a brilliant job of bringing Don Quixote into the twentieth century and making him relevant. Father Quixote, the Don’s supposed descendant, is as endearing as his famous forefather. His travelling companion, the Mayor of El Toboso, is his answer to Sancho Panza. Like their namesakes 300 hundred years earlier, they too embark on a life-asserting journey, driving Rocinante (no longer a horse, but a rusty old car with a soul). Their road-trip is plagued with difficulties: they are pursued by Guardia and briefly held hostage by a marauding convict (whom they aid and abate out of the goodness of their hearts). They overindulge in wine and food. There is never a dull moment!
Behind their outrageous adventures hides a momentous discourse about the triumph of basic humanity over two totalitarian concepts: religion and communism. The idle conversations between the two protagonists where Father Quixote defends the virtues of Catholicism and the Mayor the ideas of communism, are priceless. I relished the humour, the irony and the warmth of those debates. The two adversaries’ ability to reconcile their differences without compromising their beliefs and to preserve their friendship restores one’s faith in humanity.
Body & Soul is the last in Frank Elder series and, altogether, John Harvey’s swansong. I hadn’t read any of the Frank Elder books so, for me, the broad and slow introduction of this character was welcome. I relished the fact that Harvey refused to jump head-on into a gruesome crime scene to shock and hook the reader. Instead, he started with Elder’s laidback life in semi-retirement, with his songstress love interest Vicki by his side.
The small-village Cornish setting is well drawn. Frank fits in well. The discord and the suspense are built into this idyllic setup slowly and with an assured hand. You can tell that at the back of Frank’s mind a turbulent copper’s past is lurking and refuses to be put to rest. Then comes the arrival of his estranged daughter, Katherine. Her bandaged wrists and her reluctance to talk nevertheless tell a tragic tale. Frank uncovers only snapshots of what might have happened, but that’s all he needs: his little girl has been badly hurt. That unleashes their long-buried past and Frank’s internal demons. He burst onto the bohemian London arts scene to punish Antony Winters, a man he blames for Katherine’s breakdown.
The characterisation is excellent: the raging father, the vulnerable, damaged daughter, the smooth, thrills-seeking artist, and then the psychotic criminal responsible for Katherine’s broken body and soul. The investigating officer is no longer retired detective Frank Elder – it is DI Alex Hadley. She is trying to calmly and sensitively put it all together, meandering between father’s grief and daughter’s unreliable mind.
I found the ending brutal, but not unrealistic. My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for making it possible for me to get to know Frank Elder in this final chapter.
This is a haunting read. It pulls you in and soon you find yourself drowning, gasping for air, reaching towards the light. The single mother of a two-year-old girl opens up to you, tells you all as it is, step after painful step of the way. After separating from her husband, she finds refuge in a light-flooded four-floor apartment where she tries to rebuild her life. It is a fine balancing act between sanity and depression, survival and surrender. She is a tightrope walker and she wobbles and falls down many times. She resorts to drinking which doesn’t do much for her balancing skills. She is vulnerable, incompetent, often late, sometimes short-tempered. As a woman, you can see yourself in her – all those times in your life when you thought you wouldn’t be able to make it through the day. That is what makes it a haunting read. It hits home. It gets under your skin. It could be you.
The dazzling bright light dancing in her flat is symbolic of life. The empty flat on the third floor symbolises new doors, new beginnings opening before her as the story draws to its end. So at last, you can breathe.
I give it 5 stars not because I loved it, but because it was so powerful, so close to the nerve and so painfully honest. Reading it was a vicarious experience I am so glad I only brushed by in passing. But it stays with you and you can’t ignore it.
Time for a third instalment in my series dissecting the secrets of great writers. I read The Remains of the Day because I was inspired by an interview with the author following him receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ishiguro sounded like such a thoughtful, collected character. In short, I liked him as a person […]
via Recipe for literature that does not go out of fashion — Anna Legat Author
Hangman is a fast-paced crime drama, riddled with secrets buried deep in the heroine’s guilty conscience. The storyline dips into the unfinished business of Ragdoll, the previous book in the series. Right from the start, a seed of doubt is planted in reader’s mind as to whether the actual mastermind killer was in fact comprehended in the Ragdoll case or whether he is still out there playing the part of the puppet-master in the shadows. That doubt is steeped in anxiety, which accompanies the reader through the opening chapters.
The dialogue drives the plot; it is realistic and witty. The characters are well drawn and multi-dimensional. A gripping start.