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:
Unfaithfully 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 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.