I know something you don’t know. And I’m not going to tell. I’m just going to remind you every few minutes that I know a secret. It’s a really cool secret. You really want to know. But I’m not going to tell.
Is this annoying, childish and reminiscent of your little sister? Yes. Is it the stuff of great literature? Sadly, Maggie O’Farrell seems to think so.
Lily meets Marcus at an art gallery and overhears him saying he needs a new flatmate. He is devastatingly attractive and she lives with her mum, so she does the natural thing in the circumstances: decides to move in with a complete stranger. Only this stranger has a dark secret – yes, one that I’m not going to tell you – and soon Lily starts seeing what appears to be the ghost of Marcus’ ex-girlfriend Sinead. This ‘ghost’ pops up all over the place, even watching them having sex, and Lily becomes a nervous wreck. Which is all rather odd, since Sinead is not even dead. That’s not the secret by the way, and infuriatingly, Sinead’s ghostly presence is never explained.
Suspense created when everyone knows what is going on apart from you is not big and it’s not clever. Nothing happens while we wait to find out the secret and we are given no indication of why Lily finds Marcus so attractive, who these people are, or why we should care.
The overriding impression
of My Lover’s Lover is one of laziness. One feels O’Farrell
could do a lot better, but really can’t be bothered; can’t
be bothered to develop characters, evoke emotions or produce more exciting
sentences than ‘It begins to rain and Lily realises she’s
forgotten her umbrella’. And the only plot device – the secret
– is poorly executed and, once revealed, deeply disappointing.
Review date: April 2002
Do the Right
Shyam and Chita, aka Rama and Sita, meet in an internet chatroom. Both in India, they are married within the year, but due to an obscure clause in Shyam’s father’s will, they are forced to move to England to pursue careers in management consultancy. Is this starting to sound strangely familiar? If not, read on…
Despite their idyllic marriage, they are beset by problems when Sam, Chita’s boss, takes a shine to her and begins pursing her relentlessly. Innocent that she is, Chita takes Sam at face value, and makes a mistake that costs her dearly on the couple’s eventual return to India. Got it yet?
OK, so it’s
chick lit, and yes, the heroine is strong, successful and sickeningly
perfect. But as ever, Shyama Perera manages to tell a modern fairytale
with intelligence, wit and charm. And when the unexpected revelation comes,
it is delicious in its elegant simplicity.
date: January 2002
To purchase this great book, click here Do the Right Thing
For the orginal Story of Rama and Sita, read The Ramayana
“Subjecting these feelings to a thorough analysis I concluded that they were symptoms of a subconscious fear,” reveals our hero, explaining a momentary faltering in his quest for the beautiful and elusive Madame.
The story of a self-obsessed teenager in desperate adolescent pursuit of his unobtainable French teacher in 1960s Poland is a symphony of intellectual romantic obsession. Everything he does is couched in terms of a game of chess and contains ample references to high art, history and politics, delivered in a pompous manner: at first charming; rapidly becoming irritating; eventually somewhat tedious.
Yet his schemes are engaging as chess is. Each move is carefully calculated and the possible ramifications methodically explored. Madame is skilfully written and the subtle backdrop of communism interesting and convincing. But no matter how well Libera invokes our narrator’s youthful arrogance and pretension, the fact remains that it is arrogant and pretentious. And irritating.
Review date: March 2002
To buy this, click here Madame
Frankie and Stankie by Barbara Trapido is also set against an interesting political backdrop
For a very different but fascinating book about chess (and alcoholism) try The Grass Arena by John Healy
Nothing actually happens.
There are realistic, nice characters, and they do normal things. It is
sometimes pretty and occasionally moving. But 295 pages of evoking a moment
eventually becomes tiresome, and ultimately this is little more than whimsical
date: January 2002
If you don't agree with Anna and would like to buy this anyway, click here The Water-breather
Frozen Music by Marika Cobbold has good family dynamic and a much better evocation of childhood, though falls down a little at the end
A Density of Souls
In New Orleans, Meredith, Brandon, Greg and Stephen like to play in the cemetery. But their lives are changed forever when they go to High School and decide not to speak to Stephen any more because he is gay. Then Greg’s brother dies. Then Greg shoots himself. Then Meredith gets drunk. Then everyone falls in love with Stephen. Then… OK, that’s enough about the ‘story’.
This is bad. Scream
meets The Secret History, meets Midnight in the Garden of
Good and Evil, meets an angsty talentless teenager with ideas so
far above his station it’s not even funny. It stumbles mindlessly
from meaningful silence to enigmatic comment, taking in plot devices that
might be predictable if the book were remotely engaging. Mommy Anne Rice,
of Interview With A Vampire fame, is clearly the only
reason this transparent wish-fulfilment exercise ever saw an agent, let
alone the light of day.
Review date: February 2002
If you don't believe it can be this bad and would like to read it for yourself, click here A Density of Souls
Astonishingly Christopher Rice went on to publish another book. Maybe it's better - if you fancy your luck click here The Snow Garden
You could try Mommy's Interview with the Vampire
The Secret History deals with the teenager aspects, a very gripping thriller about a group of college students who find themselves mixed up in murder
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is very readable and much much better than the film - set in Savannah and peopled with intriguing characters, it is much more than the murder mystery it is billed as
James, a reluctant mobile phone salesman, is stranded in Beirut when his plane runs out of fuel. He phones his girlfriend, only to discover that she has been cheating on him. And to make matters worse, he misses his flight onwards.
Luckily, that very evening, he meets and falls in love with the gorgeous Maya, and quickly makes some Palestinian and Lebanese friends. Cue a love story, set against the fascinating backdrop of an enigmatic war-torn city, just before the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon?
Perhaps, if it was remotely well-written. Sadly, the plot is wildly improbable, there is no character depth and it is atrociously edited. Its only merit is being set in Beirut, where you have to ask after every member of someone’s family before discussing business and the women are “better dressed than the ones in the fashion magazines”. However, Lonely Planet: Lebanon is a good read.
date: August 2003
and Ruji-Babes run the E-Z call internet and phone shop down Cannon Street
road and live a quiet idyllic life together until Zafar turns up and tries
to throw a spanner in the works.
Not a terribly exciting story really, but Foxy-T has a novelty motif: it is narrated in the voice of a rudeboy. What Irvine Welsh did for Scots, Tony White is trying to do for Bangladeshi East Londoners: ‘Foxy-T just wave her hand as if to say like “Don’t talk to me now man I’m thinking init” Then after a while she would probaly try whatever it was she been a think about...’
But unsurprisingly the novelty does wear off: some kind of plot is required, and there just isn’t enough here to fill 230 pages. Plus the jury is still out on whether it matters that the author is clearly no rudeboy himself. He’s white.
date: July 2003
To buy this book click here Foxy-T
On the Road
You know that bloke in the pub, who tells you all about his trip to India where he met the most amazing people and took the most fascinating drugs? He is boring – so is On the Road. It is Kerouac's worship-like pursuit of Neal Cassidy: the "living epitome of beat", the "Angel", the "Saint", who tediously wanders around America marrying women, having kids by them, leaving them, letting all his friends down and talking rubbish. Kerouac spent seven years following Cassidy, then wrote the book in three weeks. "That's not writing, that's typing" said Truman Capote, and in fact Kerouac was convinced his artistic flow would be interrupted by changing the paper at the end of a page, so he taped together twelve-foot-long sheets to feed into his typewriter in order that not a second of his epic trip would be lost. Perhaps if he'd had access to a computer he'd have realised he had nothing to say.
date: June 2001
Still want to buy it? On the Road
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