Books

The Good, The Bad And The Modern Gothic: Four Novels Reviewed

Finally, a week in which I have once again had time to read as much as I like. This week, six books, most of which were novels. I’ve now moved onto Augustine: Conversions and Confessions by Robin Lane Fox, which I expect I’ll stick with for a while.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Guns don’t kill people, rappers do, Goldie Lookin’ Chain told us in 2005. In probably the most English rap ever: sarcastic, taking the piss out of themselves, scooting around on mobility scooters while inept policemen chase after them.

 

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick isn’t a book you’d necessarily relate to this song, unless you’re me.

Revolver by Marcus SedgwickThe story centres around Sig Andersson, who lives in a cabin north of the Arctic Circle. Life is hard, and above all cold. When he finds his father dead on the icy lake one day, Sig isn’t sure what to do. Then a mysterious visitor arrives, claiming that Sig’s father owes him money, and all of a sudden Sig is faced with a bigger decision than just whether to leave the cabin come summer.

Many years ago, Sig’s father showed him a Colt revolver hidden in the cabin’s storeroom. He described the beauty of the gun, meeting derision from Sig’s sister Anna as he did so. “What’s beautiful about this?” she asks, pointing the empty gun at Sig’s head, and he realises what a gun truly means: a small metal punctuation point between life and death.

Now, fully aware of the pistol’s presence in the cabin, will he use it to stop their threatening visitor once and for all?

I found the writing style quite difficult. If it’d been longer, I probably would have put it down, but at just 217 pages, it’s practically a novella.

The characters weren’t well-developed enough for me to find them interesting (or, really, to care what happened to them), and the story wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to know what would happen next. I could easily have put the book down and forgotten about it.

However, there was one theme I liked: the idea that, when you’re faced with two options, there’s always a third way. As Sedgwick explains in his note at the end of the book:

“I think it’s up to each of us to decide whether guns are good or bad, just as it is for Sig in the book. Many people argue that a gun does nothing without someone deciding to pull the trigger, but… all I would like to say is that I believe there’s always a third option in life, it’s just that sometimes it takes a little while to find it.”

I’m not sure if always is the right word to use here. Usually, perhaps. Often, certainly. But I liked the concept, and for that the book gets a few points from me.

So, there you have it: Guns don’t kill people, people – and the decisions they make – do.

Buy Revolver on Amazon.

How To Measure A Cow by Margaret Forster

How To Measure A Cow by Margaret ForsterI so wanted this to be good. It’s been a good year for books so far, 2016 – and it sounded like it was right up my street.

An artsy title, a woman who’d lost everything, changed her identity, and gone to start a new life in hiding in the countryside. A hint at a terrible secret in her past. An unlikely friendship struck up with the old lady across the road.

But, nah.

I mean, it was alright. But the main character felt a bit two-dimensional, especially for someone who had the added dimension of creating a whole new life for herself. She also seemed quite unredeemable – I mean, I like an anti-heroine (will Lisbeth Salander please stand up?), but I don’t like a person who just makes questionable decisions that are never fully explained.

And the ending… well, there were just too many loose threads.

I get it, life is messy. Things don’t just tie up neatly like a storybook. And I enjoy a realistic novel. But if you leave the reader guessing about practically everything, then… well, then it’s not much of a storybook at all.

Overall, it felt like a book that had a lot of potential, but that didn’t begin to live up to it.

Buy How to Measure a Cow on Amazon.

Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley

Keep Me Posted by Lisa BeazleyThis one, though, was exactly the opposite.

I didn’t pick it up for ages because I thought it’d be a bit crap. It looked and sounded like the kind of run-of-the-mill chick lit I can only force myself to read by locking myself in the bathroom with a bubbly bath and a hot chocolate.

Once I had picked it up, though, I couldn’t stop. Beazley’s writing style is gripping, her characters well-rounded and interesting, and her stories brilliantly interwoven.

Keep Me Posted is about two sisters, Sid and Cassie, who live on opposite sides of the world. At a family Christmas dinner, they agree to become penpals – the offline kind. So they start writing intimate letters to each other, detailing the ins and outs of their lives: the accidental kisses with exes, the irritations with their husbands, the joys and challenges of raising children.

But then Cassie makes a mistake. A big one; one that will put both her marriage and her relationship with her sister in peril.

A true page-turner that’s best read in one sitting so you don’t end up reading it whilst walking down the street and nearly bumping into the postman (sorry, Bob!), Keep Me Posted is highly recommended.

Buy Keep Me Posted on Amazon.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Loney by Andrew Michael HurleyAn odd little book that I still can’t decide if I liked, The Loney is about a group of Christians and their new vicar, who has replaced the old, very popular vicar and is struggling to keep everyone happy.

When the old vicar was alive, they all used to go the the Loney each year at Easter. There, they’d read the Bible, pray together, walk around in nature, and most importantly, try to cure Andrew.

Andrew is the brother of the story’s narrator, who switches between being a boy and a man as he recalls what happened at the Loney so many years ago.

Having been born with a disability, Andrew has never been able to speak, and has always had learning difficulties that meant he had to go to a boarding school and only come home in the holidays. The fuss surrounding his return, and the annual trip to the holy well at the Loney to try to cure him, were trademarks of his mother’s obsession with curing him – until the year when everything changed.

It’s one of those books where you know something horrific is going to happen at some point, and so the whole way through you’re just waiting to find out what it is.

I wouldn’t say it’s the best book I’ve ever read, and there were parts where I was a bit bored, but on the whole it was a fun read, especially if you’re into modern gothic-influenced literature.

One tip, though: the black edges of the pages look cool (and are one of the reasons I bought it in the first place, if I’m being honest), but if you read it in the bath you will end up with black smudges all over yourself.

Buy The Loney on Amazon.

These are affiliate links, which means that if you buy the books after clicking on them, I will receive a percentage of the sale price. The books will be the same price whether you buy them through my links or by searching on Amazon. Keep Me Posted and How To Measure A Cow were received as review copies from the publishers. The Loney was not; I bought it in the supermarket because I was intrigued by the black-edged pages. I can’t remember where The Revolver came from, but in any case all opinions are my own. 

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