Two Brief Reviews

I had the week from Hell last week. No, don’t ask, I’m not in a place where I can talk about any of it yet, although I can say it included in its minor reaches a rushed trip to the dentist and being attacked by trolls in an online discussion. Not events designed to enhance one’s joie de vivre. In consequence I am terribly behind with online commenting and not likely to catch up just yet. Many apologies.

But to keep us ticking over, a couple of reviews:

UnfaithfullyYoursUnfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams is an epistolary novel, a brave decision in the 21st century, but underwritten by having a cast of 60-somethings, who still like putting pen to paper. It begins when Elizabeth Price engages the out-of-work private eye, Roland Gibbons, to find out the truth about her husband’s suspected philandering, and before long it draws into a tight knot a group of four couples who used to know and like each other well enough to share villa holidays. Those days are nostalgic memories, and rancour, distrust, jealousy and rage has soured their relationships – particularly those who were married to one another. One wife has died in mysterious circumstances, and before long the questions about adultery have turned into investigations into a possible murder.

This book reminded me so much of a rather well-known Mike Leigh play, Abigail’s Party, a waspishly black social comedy from the era of brown and orange carpets and martinis that contained a tinned olive speared on a cocktail stick.  There is something quintessentially British about this sort of thing, where we find appalling people quite funny and events hover around the tragicomic in a farcical way. I was afraid when I began it that I would find the book a bit dated and stage-y. But Nigel Williams is a very experienced writer, and he keeps plugging away at his characters, digging beyond their shallow facades to find the deeper, more authentic and interesting emotions beneath. It is also extremely well plotted, with the exchange of letters being used in rather clever ways to mislead the reader. So I enjoyed it a lot more than I initially thought I would, and admired its skill. You’ve got to be prepared to laugh at unpleasant people, though, and to enjoy reading a rant.

 

a-kind-of-edenA Kind of Eden by Amanda Smyth is a great book to read when things aren’t going well, because no matter what’s happening to you, a great deal worse is going on in Trinidad and Tobago. Martin Rawlinson took up a temporary position with the Trinidad police a couple of years ago, and to his surprise, he’s gone native. He has grown to love these beautiful, vibrant islands, and the laid-back culture of the place, even if he is as horrified as everyone else at the violent lawlessness that is infiltrating his paradise. The real attachment to the place comes in the form of a gorgeous young woman, Safiya, a journalist with whom he has fallen deeply in love. In some ways he knows he is a middle-aged fool, old enough to be her father, and not at all suitable, but the heart wants what it wants. Now his family – his wife, Miriam and daughter, Georgia – are coming out for a holiday, and he knows he must break the news to them that he is not returning home.

Over the course of that week, though, events will occur that will change everything. I have to say that the atmosphere of creeping menace in this book is brilliantly done. Smyth never stops reminding the reader with little signs here and there, that this is a place where great evil occurs out of the most supreme disrespect for the life of another person, the dark flip side of indolent freedom. It’s a clever touch to have Martin in the police, brought in as a consultant whose job is to reform and modernise. Has he been corrupted by the islands – though his lack of ethics takes a different form – and therefore what happens to him is a form of justice? Or is it simply that he is an accident waiting to happen? This was a very good book – terrible, compelling and shocking, but not without firm belief in the fundamental resilience of humanity. Having read it, I can assure you I will never, ever set foot in either Trinidad or Tobago, pretty as they may be. I’ll read Amanda Smyth again, though.

 

ETA: Dear friends – I’m going to go offline for a little while, and probably won’t be answering emails much either. Read well, look after yourselves! I hope to be back soon.

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27 thoughts on “Two Brief Reviews

  1. Oh you poor thing (sounds way worse than my Sunday). I ordered one one your recommendations for my Kindle which I’m forcing myself to get on with. Not really working so far but hey…..

  2. The Bears have been worrying about your tooth not having heard any more about it. And, they say if you want they will come and thump your trolls up and beat them up:)

    As I was reading about the first of these books it wasn’t Mike Leigh that came to mind, but Alan Ayckbourn, whose work I think is so clever. I’ll definitely look out for it.

  3. I downloaded a sample of Unfaithfully Yours, but didn’t buy the rest. I had been looking forward to it because I used to love Nigel Williams. BUT I feel yes he is unfortunately a bit dated these days. The problem for me is that I feel the “type” of person such as Elizabeth Price is kind of a character from the past these days, at least compared with the people of similar age and background I know in real life.
    I have however ordered Beautiful Ruins after reading your review and really looking forward to it arriving.
    Hope your week picks up. And no need to apologise – I look forward to reading your posts whenever they arrive.

  4. Sorry to hear about the week from hell–especially when it combines both physical pain (and when does something to do with teeth like that not?) and mental pain in the form of obnoxious people online. Why is it people can be so utterly nasty online (I guess that’s the point–they can hide behind their computers!). I hope this week improves–and it’s always nice when a book helps put things in perspective (it can always be even worse someplace else!). I had not heard of the Smyth (will keep my eye out for it), and was curious about the Williams, which if it is quintessentially British (and an epistolary novel) sounds right up my alley. Thank goodness for books, eh!

  5. Commiserations on your week of hell. I don’t understand why people think its ok to hurl abuse at another person just because they can hide behind the anonymity of an Internet avatar. Wd they do it if the person was standing in front of them?

    As for the books, an epistolary novel in this century in which people write letters doesn’t seem credible for me. Who writes letters these days? More likely it wd be text or email.

  6. I haven’t been attacked by trolls yet but can imagine it’s far from fun. Sorry it happened to you. It could happen to all of us. The dentist as well. And it’s not much more fun.
    At least you’ve read two good books. Small pleasures . . .

  7. Isn’t the cover of the Nigel Williams wonderful? As always, now I want to read both of these after your review. Get plenty of rest, LL. Stay strong.

  8. Arghhh, on-line trolls!
    Unfaithfully Yours sounds intriguing. I am having a real roll with books about unpleasant people recently. I haven’t got a copy of The Woman Upstairs yet, but hopefully this weekend I will be picking it up at the library. I read Alys, Always (inspired by your fantastic review) and Notes on a Scandal last month (both fabulous) and just finished The Diner by Hermann Koch which as some very, very unpleasant characters. Not fabulous however. Not terrible, but there were some unexplained plot issues, I thought. Oh and I also just finished Last Man in the Tower by Aravind Adiga which also had very complex characters with whom I would sympathize one moment and be appalled by the next.
    Enjoy your break and recharge from real life unpleasantries. You know the one thing about you not posting is that it gives the rest of us to catch up on all those books that you have recommended! :)

  9. Trolls and dentist in one week! Aaagh! Enjoy your time offline, and enjoy reading and time for yourself. I really hope there is a special place for trolls in the afterlife, somewhere where they aren’t near the rest of us.

    I really want to read the Trinidad and Tobago book. I have a friend who met a man from Trinidad and married him, and lives down there now. She says the crime and lawlessness is terrible. They have had martial law declared a few times in the past year just to keep people at home and kind of safe. And yet, she loves it there, with her husband. I think the Amanda Smyth novel will help me understand this country a little bit better.

  10. I’m another one who likes the Nigel Williams cover. You are dreadful for my bank balance, litlove, now there are two more books I’d never heard of which I now must read…

    Really sorry you’ve had such a hellish time. I hope that you are feeling better and that if you need someone to be Very Rude to trolls you’ll just say the word. At least dentists aren’t trolls – in the sense that you sit down in the whizzy chair and a squat green warty fellow pops up beside you holding a drill and grinning toothily. That would be much worse than the usual sort of dentist, I should think.

    Enjoy your break!

  11. Whatever you’ve gone through, hope by now things have turned for the better. Unfaithfully Yours sounds like interesting materials for the screen, a dramedy maybe. I’ve not read his plays, but Mike Leigh would be an excellent director/writer to do this. His film Another Year is one of my favorites. Back to this book, it seems that the epistolary novel is still very much alive. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society instantly comes to mind.

  12. I love epistolary novels! One reason to lament the demise of letters is that those novels are no longer plausible, or at least the traditional kind of epistolary novel no longer is. I enjoyed Where’d You Go Bernadette so much partly because of the way it updates the genre.

  13. Your friends said it all – the dentist and the trolls in one week is a terrible combination! I’ve been avoiding my dentist for a while now. Hope you rest well and that you feel better soon. xx

  14. Firstly, so sorry that torment was set upon you – whether virtual and mean or physical but necessary dental procedure. Since it’s been nearly a month since you posted this (I AM that far behind – and more – in my news reader!) I hope you’ve put it all behind you.

    With regard to the epistolary novel, do you know if anyone has attempted one that is all emails since few send real letters anymore? Yes, there was the cute You’ve Got Mail movie years ago, but what about a novel of emails. Seems like letters could be very gimmicky since they aren’t used much anymore, yet I could see emails as a device easily being more gimmick than literary device.

  15. Pingback: Tales from the Reading Room

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