Saturday 25 April 2020

THE MEMORY by Judith Barrow

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read all of Judith Barrow's books, so I bought this as soon as it came out.

In a Nutshell: Intense family drama dealing with Down's Syndrome, bereavement and dementia.

I liked the structure of this book a lot - it's written in the first person, and each chapter starts with a small section in the present day (2002), with Irene, the main character, taking care of her mother, who has dementia.  Then it goes back in time, starting in 1963 when she was a child, and her sister, Rose, who has Down's Syndrome, is born.  I really loved the first third, which detailed Irene's love for her sister (quite beautiful) and the difficulties within the family, with her cold, brusque mother, delightful father and the grandmother she adored.  I was completely absorbed.  The rest of the story pivots around a shocking event that takes place at around 40%.

The book slowed down for me a little during the middle section, which was about Irene's growing up and the early part of her marriage to Sam, and I found the family's lives rather depressing (which is a bit rich coming from someone who writes about dystopian horrors, but I find the end of the world as we know it less depressing than a humdrum life.  I know, I'm weird).  In the final third developments became much more interesting, and I was engrossed once more.  I would have liked a little more in the way of plot, but that's just personal taste, not a criticism; this is a character rather than a plot-driven book.

The strongest aspect of the latter part of the book was the initial development of the mother's dementia; I have experience of this with my late mother, and, although the circumstances were very different, it certainly struck a chord, with one particular episode bringing tears to my eyes.

My favourite characters were Irene's father and her husband, Sam, who I thought got a bit of a raw deal and put up with too much (I do hope he had more fun than he admitted to Irene, during a time when circumstances forced them apart).  I can't say I liked Irene, who put her own obsession with the past before his happiness, and whose outlook often seemed rather narrow (I kept wanting to tell her to lighten up, and do something a bit crazy!), but I appreciated how deeply and lastingly she was affected by the aforementioned shocking event, and she's a thoroughly three-dimensional character.

The other star of the book is the time and place—the working class northern England of the 1960s and 70s, which was as starkly and realistically portrayed as any TV kitchen sink drama.

The ending brings a most surprising twist directly related to the events of Irene's earlier years, which filled me with regret on her behalf.  If you enjoy emotional family dramas that dig deep into the psyche, you will love this book, with its vivid descriptions of familial conflict, loss and the day to day difficulties of caring for a person with dementia.

Sunday 12 April 2020

RUM HIJACK by Phil Motel @motelacid

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
Also free on Kindle Unlimited

How I discovered this book:  I read and loved the original version...

In A Nutshell: Darkly humorous literary fiction about a delusional would-be writer.

Rum Hijack was originally written as three novellas, some years ago; I read them all as they came out, and loved them - now they're back as one novel, a new and improved version that retains all that I liked about the original, but is much more streamlined, better edited and put together so well that you can't see the join, as it were.

The nameless young male protagonist tells his story in the first person; later to call himself Inkker Hauser, he lives alone in a flat left to him by his grandfather, does not work, and leads a rather lonely life; often, his only company is his beloved goldfish, Kursk (named after his favourite nautical disaster), and the staff and drinkers at his local pub.

Inkker is convinced that he is destined to become a writer of such importance that, once his masterpiece is written, all other literary works will pale beside it.  He pours scorn on self-published ebook writers, on the pretentious and the less intelligent, sure that once his words burst forth, the world will recognise and revere his unmatched talent.  His lack of production he puts down to 'writer's block', and, as his frustration mounts, his grip on reality slides slowly down hill, lost in alcoholic and drug-induced chaos.

Although very much a contemporary novel, with its references to the technology and culture of today, the book it reminds me of most is Victorian comic novel Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome; similarly, the young man darts off at tangents to talk about something else in such a way that you don't mind because it's every bit as entertaining as the main story.  Also, the observations about human behaviour are both amusing and remarkably astute, and the standard of the writing itself is as good as any cult literary classic. 

Aside from this, what makes the book work so well is the fact that the young man is oddly likeable, despite his deranged alcoholism and cynical outlook.  I found myself really wanting him to find some love and peace of mind.  He is kind to the less fortunate, and to the old lady in a nearby flat, and his love for his fish is very sweet and quite heartbreaking, because he has no one else on which to focus.  There's also a terrifically moving section in which he talks at length about a childhood outing with his grandfather.

His loneliness and shame over the consequences of his bizarre actions is sometimes painful to read - having said that, though, one of my favourite parts in the entire book is the cringe-making downward spiral of a disastrous date, in which his behaviour becomes increasingly out of control as he drinks far too much and tops it up with cocaine.  The best 'bad date' story I've read!

If you like Charles Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Philip K Dick, William Burroughs... I hope this book can gain the visibility and readership it deserves, because I believe it could become one of those novels about which, in years to come, people will say, "What?  You haven't read Rum Hijack?"

Wednesday 8 April 2020

OBSESSION by Robin Storey @RobinStorey1 #RBRT

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member; I enjoyed the last book I read by this author, Secret Kill, so chose this one straight away.

In a Nutshell: Novella, set in Australia, in which an intellectually disabled man becomes obsessed with a neighbour.

Intellectually disabled Benny Goodchild is in his early forties, works in a warehouse where he suffers taunts from colleagues, and lives alone.  His life is humdrum indeed, but trouble starts when he starts doing gardening work for Olivia, who lives nearby.  Then he gets the opportunity to earn some serious money—the sort of serious that he suspects might be illegal.

I was engrossed in this book all the way through, looking forward to getting back to it at each session.  It's written in the third person, with the deep point of view that allows the reader to see into Benny's often rather confused mind.  The story has been planned well, and I couldn't work out what was going to happen, at all—it could have taken a number of different turns.  Ms Storey has an easy, flowing writing style, and the characterisation is subtly but artfully developed, even for lesser characters.

I would have given it five stars if it wasn't for a practical issue that didn't convince me, but I do tend to read with an editor's head on, and I doubt it would bother most people; if Amazon ratings had a ten star range, I'd give it eight.  Overall, this is a highly entertaining book throughout which I was not tempted to skip-read once (which is something, for me!) and it comes with a definite recommendation.  Buy it!

Friday 3 April 2020

HIGHLAND COVE by Dylan J Morgan @dylanjmorgan #RBRT

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In A Nutshell:  Five twenty-somethings investigate a supposedly haunted abandoned asylum on a Scottish island.

A highly atmospheric story that gathers momentum like skeletal fingers walking slowly up your back, Highland Cove is a book that will delight lovers of dark, horrifying ghost stories that do not necessarily end well... 

The party of five who set out on this foolish mission—to make a documentary in a haunted asylum on a lonely Scottish island—each have their own story, and the characters are well-defined, particularly Liam, for whom this project is something of a passion, and Alex, the sceptical rich boy who has been invited purely because he is willing to fund it.  Dylan Morgan's descriptive powers are first class, and I particularly liked the meeting in the pub, early on, with the old sailor who was to take them across from the mainland.

I was pleased to find that the horror certainly ramps up during the second half, with many surprises, and I thought the last twenty per cent was actually the best part, with a twist in the tale or two that I didn't expect, at all.  I felt that some of the detail in the first half could have been chopped down a little, but on the whole I'd say that this is a fine, well-written book with good plot, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes to become immersed in a novel on the gory horror end of the supernatural genre.