Lionel Shriver excels at taking ordinary lives and using them to tell an extraordinary story. In this instance we have a middle-aged woman, married, successful, possibly happy, who finds herself at odds with her husband when she is forced to take in her older brother, a former jazz musician with something of a weight problem.
Looking through her eyes, I found her observations about her brother and how the world sees him an extraordinarily compelling read. Shriver tells the story beautifully, using her precise and somewhat poetic style, and weaving in a whole Social Science case study that examines our attitudes to the chronically obese, and how we view the consumption of food. Having read it, I don’t think I’ll view cookery programmes in the same light ever again: at the end of the day, it’s all just fuel.
The characters are meticulously drawn and remain true and constant from start to end, driving a plot that makes it hard to put the book down. A writing master class.
If I would make one complaint, and this really is just a personal opinion, I thought the ending was a little bit disappointing; not so much the outcome, just the way it was staged.
Still, a great read, and highly recommended. Pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Ms Shriver.
This is book six in the Jack Caffrey series, which I was glad to see following Miss Hayder’s diversion to Hanging Hill. There’s not much here to separate it from the other five novels; the characters are well-drawn, consistent and, thankfully, behave like human beings. The author manages to skilfully weave several threads around the main plot, tying the whole thing up very nicely with a last minute twist that honestly threw me.
What I wasn’t too sure about was the focus of the story: Jack Caffrey wasn’t really in it that much, which was odd since he was supposed to be solving the case. Instead we flitted around the relationship between a mental nurse and his boss, and spent a lot of time inside the head of one of Caffrey’s colleagues. I think I preferred it when the books were about it him.
I think the only real problem I had with the book was that the prose was a little haphazard in places; there were a few spots which brought the flow to a crashing halt and left me wondering how the editor could have missed it. My personal favourite?
The examination has been a hot potato that bounced around the Flax Bourton Mortuary like a ping-pong ball.
Bouncing potatoes? Mmmm. Not sure.
Okay, a bit of an odd choice for me, and if I’m honest I picked it for one reason:
Yup, it’s being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise. (Do I need a better one?). The book follows the experiences of a soldier caught up in a twenty-year war with an enemy that seems unbeatable, even though the home side is equipped with high-tech exoskeletons that enable them to fight with superhuman strength and speed. The first time into battle, our hero is killed, and wakes up to find himself in a time loop: repeating the same day and the same battle again and again.
The Forever War meets Ground Hog Day.
I wasn’t expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It was well-written, well-paced and told the story in a sort of flat, distant style that did remind me very much of the Forever War. It’s not a very long book, and the terse prose didn’t waste a single word. The history of the war, the origins of the aliens, the technology and the explanation of the time loop was all skilfully weaved into the plot without the feeling that it was all being slotted in during slow moments. Nicely done.
Speaking of the time loop, I had a lot of difficulty getting my noggin around that one, but I’ve always found time travel in novels a bit tricky. In this case though, I found it tricky and perhaps a little bit unconvincing (can you say that about a science-fiction novel?). Just my opinion though.
As I said, I was pleasantly surprised. This is an excellent book that I will probably become a bit of a cult classic after the movie is released. I just hope the film does it justice.