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Posts Tagged ‘dual storyline’

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This book jumps backwards and forwards in time, and chapters are alternately told from the memory of Mrs Threadgoode, an elderly lady in a nursing home who is reminiscing to Evelyn Crouch, a deeply unhappy housewife who attends the home to visit her mother-in-law and in the third person during the 1930s – 1960s, which is when the majority of the story itself takes place. There are also inserts from The Weems Weekly, an informal gossip paper from the town of Whistle Stop, and various other newspapers from places around Alabama.

As the story would suggest, the majority of the story revolves around the Whistle Stop Cafe, which was run by Imogen ‘Idgie’ Threadgoode, and her friend Ruth, and which became a communal point for many people in the little town of Whistle Stop.

Although the book features such themes as murder, racism and marital abuse, it does somehow manage to be light reading and even what I would describe as fluffy in some parts. That is in no way a criticism however; like Evelyn – who does get a few chapters devoted to her personally and her own ‘journey’ from depression – I enjoyed Mrs Threadgoode’s reminiscences and memories of a different time, when people trusted one another, and everybody knew everybody else’s business.

It’s definitely an undemanding read, filled with memorable characters – my favourite was Idgie, who was feisty, funny and fiercely devoted to those around her. Some of the racial epithets jarred a little, but for the main part they were reflecting attitudes of the time that the story was set in, so I could see why they were there, but it is still something that we are not as used to in more modern books.

Still though, if you are looking for a feel-good book to curl up on the sofa with and lose yourself in, you could do a lot worse than this. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by the same author, but I did like it a lot, and would certainly like to read more by Fannie Flagg.

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This book artfully blurs fact and fiction to create an interesting novel. It is narrated in part by Martin Strauss, a man who in the present day, has just learned that he has a medical condition which will cause him to eventually lose his mind; he will be unable to distinguish between memory and imagination, or to put it another way, he won’t know what is fact and what is fiction.

Martin introduces himself to the reader as the man who killed Harry Houdini, not once, but twice. In telling his story, the reader also learns the story of Houdini (although be warned…while some parts of this are absolutely truthful, other parts are fictionalised). The chapters alternate between Martin in the current day, Martin in 1926/27 and Houdini’s life.

What is true – and what forms a large part of Houdini’s story here – is that Houdini was intent on debunking so-called mediums and psychics. He was concerned that a lot of powerful people were reliant on the advice they received from psychics, and was determined to reveal spiritualism as being fake and the people that practiced it as fraudulent. Unsurprisingly, this made him a lot of enemies, and that thread is a strong feature throughout this book.

I enjoyed the parts about Houdini, which are told in the third person, but I think I actually preferred the parts about Martin Strauss. In this book, Strauss is the man who famously punched Houdini in the stomach, shortly after which Houdini died (although it is now known that he actually died as the result of appendicitis, which  may or may not have been aggravated by an unprepared for punch). Strauss is an entirely fictional character 0 in real life, the man who threw the punch was named J Gordon Whitehead.

For me, the real theme of the book is memory – what is real, what we construct for ourselves, and how we separate fact from fiction. We know from the beginning that Strauss is an unreliable narrator, but he also knows this and is desperate to impart the truth to Houdini’s daughter Alice (the result of an illicit liaison; it turns out the famous escapologist was also a rampant womaniser) before it is too late.

The ending does contain a twist which I certainly did not see coming, and I’m still not sure how I actually feel about it. Much the same as I feel when watching a magic trick, I know that I have had somehow had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I’m still trying to go back through events in my mind, working out where exactly the trick was pulled off.

Overall, this is an interesting story and well written. I think I would like to read more by Steven Galloway.

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Hannah has decided that today is the day she is going to leave her husband Tom; their once happy marriage has disintegrated to such a point that she feels they can no longer work things out, and she is looking forward to following her dream of teaching in Tanzania. But today is also the day that Tom has a stroke and Hannah feels that she cannot leave. A sense of duty compels her to remain and try and help her husband through his recovery, but as they face the future together, Tom is determined to try and fix their marriage and make Hannah fall in love with him again.

This book is told in both the present day, starting with Hannah’s discovery of her husband on their bedroom floor, clearly in serious pain, and in flashbacks which show how Hannah and Tom’s relationship started and developed and subsequently went wrong. I really enjoyed both storylines, and really enjoyed watching how these characters found and lost each other in the confusion of starting new jobs, moving into a new house and dealing with all the other problems that life can bring.

I thought both Hannah and Tom were pretty sympathetic characters – although Tom has clearly not been treating Hannah well prior to the start of the story, we the reader only ‘meet’ him at the time of his stroke, and the flashback chapters do serve to illustrate his point of view, so he is not quite the awful person that he could have been if the story were only told from Hannah’s point of view. The first part of the story actually made me cry as I tried to imagine the terror and uncertainty that both Tom and Hannah would feel as he had a stroke at the young age of 32, and realised that life might never be the same.

The writing flowed well, and I gobbled up huge chunks of the story at a time – I had to stop myself from peeking forward a few pages at times, which is always the sign of a good book.

My only slight criticism would be I wasn’t overkeen on some of the other characters. I liked Tom’s friend Nick, but his sister Julie and Hannah’s friend Steph were irritating (and Steph felt at times like a bit of a cliche). However, I feel churlish even really pointing this out, because overall this was a moving and absorbing read, which I would highly recommend. This is Katie Marsh’s debut novel, and I look forward to reading future books by her.

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This book has two timelines, the first of which is in 1972, when two seconds were added to time.  Those two seconds proved disastrous for Byron Hemmings when he believes that they are the reason an accident which caused his mother to have a breakdown.  Byron and his friend James start a campaign called Operation Perfect, to rescue Byron’s mother from her downward spiral.

The second timeline is set in the present day, and concentrates on Jim, a man in his 50s, who suffers with chronic OCD, and is haunted by the events of his past.

I enjoyed the book for the most part – the writing was lovely and the story flowed well.  The characters were believable, and Byron’s helplessness as he watches his mother sink into depression, which is not helped by the manipulative character of her new friend Beverly.  This storyline was probably the more interesting of the two, as there was more happening.  However, the character of Jim in the present day storyline, was well drawn – his crippling and debilitating OCD was wonderfully described, and it was impossible not to feel sorry for him, and to hope that things would get better for him.

However, I did find the ending, where the connection between the two story lines – hinted at many times earlier in the story, but not fully explained – was a slight disappointment, and the slight twist was not really necessary.

So overall, I would say that Perfect is not perfect, but it’s an enjoyable and absorbing read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book features two timelines, which eventually connect.  In 1980, five friends fresh out of university, find an abandoned old cottage in the Peak District, and decide to stay there for a year, living off the land, and being self-sufficient.  The group includes Kat, an insecure young woman who is hopelessly in love with another of the group, Simon, a charismatic but arrogant young man, who assumes the role of leader within the group.  In the present day, Lila and her husband Tom are struggling with the death of their baby daughter.  When an old cottage is bequeathed to Lila by an anonymous benefactor, she is puzzled but decides to renovate the property as a way of helping her work through her grief.

I have mixed feelings about this book, although generally speaking, I enjoyed it.  The writing was pacey and easy to read, and I particularly liked the character of Lila (she was one of only two characters who I really cared about throughout the story).  The 1980 storyline almost was also quite compelling, especially when the friends’ happiness almost inevitably turned to misery and tension as winter set in, and they found their self-sufficieny harder to maintain.  An unexpected arrival at the cottage creates further tension, and that was when the (1980) storyline really picked up pace.

However, I guessed the connection between the timelines and the twists to the story fairly early on; in fact they seemed so obvious that I wasn’t really sure if they were intended to be twists, as they were pretty well signposted.  This didn’t necessarily spoil my enjoyment, but if you like a lot of surprises in your novels, this might leave you feeling slightly disappointed.  (Having read other reviews of the book, I see that I was far from being alone in guessing what would happen).

Also, I got very annoyed with two of the characters.  It’s not spoilerish to say that Kat was a complete doormat when it came to Simon, but the way she is written with regard to her lack of self-respect just made her irritating rather than sympathetic.  And as for Simon himself – don’t get me started!  If ever there was a character who needed someone to just stand up to him, it was Simon.

I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, and don’t really mind the twists being easy to work out, you would probably enjoy this book.

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