Let the Light Shine : Nick Alexander
Just when I was convinced that The Photographer’s Wife was my favourite Nick Alexander book, along comes Let the Light Shine and I’m torn between the two for the top spot.
Nick is at his best when he relates family tales and it’s easy to see why he has become a #1 bestselling author on reading this, his latest novel.
It tells the story of two sisters, Penny and Victoria, with two very different lifestyles.
All families have their secrets but one Christmas in 1976 something tragic happened which impacted each sister in a different way.
Nick displays his usual talent for describing characters and their relationships in a very meaningful way, and as we begin to discover the truth we become as tangled and emotionally involved as the sisters. Each sister, we discover, has a part of the key that unlocks the mystery of what really happened on that fateful day.
Nick switches with ease from the present to the past and back again, drip feeding the reader with just enough to masterfully maintain the suspense.
Then, just when you feel that you finally understand, he deftly adds another dimension, adding yet more depth to an already rich tale.
There are many dark themes in this engrossing story and I was relieved when the light finally shone but regretted having to put the book down after the final page.
The Girl in the Red Coat
Kindle edition, 384 pages
Published by Faber & Faber Fiction; Main edition (24 Feb. 2015)
Carmel becomes separated from her mother at a local children’s festival, and is found by a man who claims to be her estranged grandfather.
Both Mum (Beth) and Carmel share the telling of this tale and when Carmel becomes a missing girl she doesn’t realise that she’s lost. While her mother desperately tries to find her, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, that leads her to question who she is and who she might become.
The book commences with the familiar premise of a child that is abducted but as the story develops, it takes us to unexpected places and unanticipated circumstances.
When writing as Carmel the author, of which this is her debut thriller, is particularly deft at telling the story from the perspective of an eight year old. The book is at the same time extremely well written, gripping, thought-provoking and emotionally generous.
I can imagine it being made into a film at some point in time.
I look forward with eager anticipation to reading the next Kate Hamer book!
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Published by Nan A. Talese (2014)
Fiona Maye is a successful High Court judge in her late fifties and presides over cases in family court.
From the outset we learn that she is immersed in her profession and in the nuances of her particular field of law and commands the respect of her peers.
Fiona seems rigorous and pragmatic and in the first chapter we discover that she is more than capable of considering sensibilities towards culture and beliefs when handing down verdicts.
All is not well in her world however and her marriage seems in peril when her husband Jack makes a challenging request and after an argument, moves out of the house.
His departure destabilises her but she throws herself into her work, which includes a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
The pressure to resolve the case and the continuing marital stress are only two of the elements that test Fiona and keeps the reader intrigued until the last chapter.
Overall the book is well written, the characters are plausible and the insights given into the workings of Family Court are often fascinating and made more so by an absence of sensationalism and modern journalism.
Personally I was very disappointed by the last chapter and the ultimate page.
I felt that the story lacked an interesting conclusion that I had already foreseen it earlier on. There was for me some improbable events that seemed out of character and left me dissatisfied.
This is a real shame as I had really enjoyed the book until then.
You will have to read the Children Act yourself to see if you agree or not but this is why I only gave it three stars.
The Cement Garden (Kindle Edition)
Author Ian McEwan
Publisher : Vintage
In the Cement Garden we discover Jack who declares in the opening sentence “I did not kill my father, but I sometimes think I helped him on his way”.
Jack and his sister Julie are the eldest of four children and they have a younger sister Sue and a brother Tom who is the the youngest.
We learn of their father’s death some time after having ordered a fair number of sacks of cement. Their mother becomes bedridden and we discover how the children cope by themselves with a difficult situation that deteriorates considerably.
Jack narrates the story and is the most clearly delineated of the children and whereas he defies social norms of cleanliness, each of his siblings has his or her own bizarre and dysfunctional way of dealing with a family situation that is coming apart.
The Cement Garden has justly been described as a tour de force of psychological unease and although it’s a short book, that doesn’t mean that it’s either shallow or uninteresting. The author conjures up uncomfortably plausible outcomes that make the Cement Garden rich, disturbing and sometimes difficult to read.
I found it to be an interesting, well written but dark read.
The Girl With All The Gifts (Kindle edition)
M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit (14 Jan. 2014)
Melanie is a little girl who goes to school, has friends and loves books. She is inquisitive, intelligent and has a great memory. As the story unfolds we discover that she is underground in an army base with other children of her age. She is muzzled occasionally, and chained to her desk; and we discover she is part of an experiment. She seems to be a normal if gifted child until we discover what happens when she smells human flesh too closely.
We see the world through Melanie’s eyes but also those of Miss Justineau, her favourite teacher, who introduces her to Greek myths (including the story of the original girl with all the gifts, Pandora, and the box she opens). Then there’s Sergeant Parks, the man in charge of the base, and the scientist Caroline Caldwell, who would dearly like to open Melanie’s skull in order to find out why she’s so intelligent and why she represents such a menace to everybody.
Although the plot is fairly straight forward and linear it becomes evident that it could be made into a film and that is exactly what is happenening as M. C.Carey has equally written the screenplay.
The ending almost rushes out of nowhere but the strong characters – especially Melanie and Miss Justineau – are well drawn and it’s very difficult not to feel for them.
I don’t wish to to give away too much of the plot and take away the pleasure of discovery but it is a clever and often surprising ride and once Melanie finally visits the outside world, we discover a recognizeable but transformed version of Britain where Carey succeeds in creating a sense of constant menace.
The pace of the last 200 or so pages of this book increases a sense of tension and some scary situations are very well imagined.
Although it is not the sort of fiction I normally read, I enjoyed it cover to cover and would recommend it as a book club read as it would nourish some very interesting discussions.
This review really reflects the reality that if you are going to write a book review you should do so just or shortly after reading the book.
Nick Alexander’s book however has been gnawing at me for a few months now and is really one of the best I have read this year. As I intend to write reviews for every book I read from now on I decided to commence with his.
The Photographer’s Wife, Nick Alexander, Published by BIGfib books, ebook edition, 1st of October 2014. 400 pages.
We discover Barbara’s childhood during London’s Blitz. We learn of the poverty and hardship that she later shielded from her children as well as the realities of a difficult marriage to the man who became a famous and well known photographer.
Nick Alexander then weaves the story through different timelines and perspectives and we discover, through Sophie, her youngest daughter, the complex relationships between her parents, when she decides to organise a retrospective of her father’s work.
Discovering old photos and the stories behind them challenges how she sees her parents.
Nick Alexander assembles the family puzzle in an affectionate and hard to put down manner that pulled me in from the first pages and held me until the conclusion. The fact that the plot hinted at future revelations didn’t distract from the pleasure of my read.
The characters are well drawn and believable and the past through to the present style of story telling adds to the depth of the novel.
On finishing I rushed to get more of Nick Alexander’s books and look forward to the pleasure of reading them.