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Posts Tagged ‘multiple narrators’

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This was another audiobook to keep me company while running. It is only this year that I have really got into audiobooks and I have discovered a curious thing – even if I don’t particularly like an audiobook, somehow it seems to keep my attention, in a way that a physical book which I wasn’t enjoying, would not be able to do. This book kind of falls into that category.

The story is told from multiple points of view, but it kind of feels like Ella Longfield’s story, as hers is the only point of view narrated in the first person. Ella is on a train journey when she overhears two young men chatting up two girls. When it becomes apparent that the two men have just been released from prison, Ella becomes alarmed and considers intervening but decides not to. However, the next morning one of the girls, Anna Ballard, has gone missing and Ella feels guilty that she did not step in.

Cut to a year later – Anna has still not been found, and Ella is full of guilt. She starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous sender, which tell her that she is being watched. Meantime, the investigation into Anna’s disappearance rumbles on, with chapters told by Ella herself (‘The Witness), Anna’s father (‘The Father’), Anna’s friend Sarah who was with her on the train (‘The Sister’) and Matt, a private detective who Ella employs to find out who is sending the postcards (‘The Private Detective’). There are also very occasional chapters narrated by ‘Watcher’ whose identity for obvious reasons, is not revealed. It soon becomes obvious that everyone connected to Anna has secrets and throughout the story it seems that any one of them could be guilty.

So far, so interesting. The premise is great – what would you have done? Would you have intervened? Would you have left well alone? Would you feel guilty in Ella’s position? And of course there is the whodunnit angle…who is sending the postcards? And what really happened to Anna?

So – there was plenty about this book that kept me listening. However, there were also things that annoyed me. Ella was not a particularly interesting narrator or main character. Can I go so far as to call her dull? (Yes, is the answer.) And considering that actually, she didn’t do anything wrong, she carries a tremendous amount of guilt, almost making the case all about her. I didn’t mind the multiple points of view that narrated the different chapters, and in fact I did particularly like Matt the private detective, albeit a lot of his personal story (his wife had a baby and he learns to adjust to fatherhood) was irrelevant. However, each chapter had a cliffhanger which was obviously a ploy to keep the reader/listener interested, but just ended up being a bit annoying and felt contrived.

The other problem was the ending. Okay, so I didn’t guess who the culprit was, but the things is that I don’t believe anyone guessed, because there was absolutely nothing – no clues, no hints – given earlier on. It seems slightly unfair to keep readers guessing and then to spring a culprit on them out of left-field. The best mysteries to me are when you are surprised by the identity of the culprit but then realise that the clues were there all along.

Overall, I would say that if, like me, you are listening to this in an effort to distract you from something else, it does the trick, but otherwise I probably would not recommend it. Fans of psychological thrillers or whodunnits can find similar stories done much better.

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One rainy November evening, a young mother is bringing her five year old son Jacob home from school when she lets go of his hand for a second. Long enough for him to get killed by a hit-and-run driver, who becomes the subject of a police investigation.

Devastated by her memories and haunted by her past, Jenna Gray moves to a remote cottage in Wales, where she tries to get over her grief. And bit by bit she starts to find a new purpose in her life – but just as she finally sees light at the end of the tunnel, her past comes back to find her.

I’ve had to be deliberately ambiguous about the plot of this book, because I don’t want to give anything away. However, if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, then I would highly recommend it. I thought the plot was very clever, and all of the characters – particularly Jenna and DI Ray Stevens, the man in charge of the investigation into Jacob’s killer – were very well depicted and easy to invest in.

There are multiple narrators in this book – Jenna tells the story in the first person, while a third person narrator describes the police investigation and delves into the personal life of Ray Stevens. A third narrator enters the story at a later point, but to say who would reveal too much.

The author was actually in the Police Force, and it shows in her knowledge and descriptions of police procedure. I also liked how she revealed the story bit by bit, and for the first time in a while when reading a novel, I had to stop myself from looking a few pages ahead, because I really wanted to know what was going to happen.

The blurb on the cover as well as every review I’ve read of this book state that there is a big twist, so I don’t think I’m revealing anything new by saying that here – however, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t known there was something twisty coming. The twist itself was cleverly written, and had I not been expecting it I would have been totally thrown.

This is an accomplished debut, and I will definitely be looking out for further books by Clare Mackintosh.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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On New Years Eve, four people meet up on the top of Toppers House – a block of flats in London, which is notorious for suicidal people throwing themselves off the roof.  Martin is a disgraced television presenter, whose marriage and career are in tatters after he slept with a 15 year old girl; Maureen is a single mother with a severely disabled son, and looking after him has left her with no time for a life of her own; Jess has family problems, and has also just been dumped by her first boyfriend; and JJ’s band has broken up and his girlfriend has left him.  These four very different people have all decided to kill themselves, but when they all turn up at Toppers House at the same time, they decide to take the long way down (i.e., they walk down) instead. (No spoilers, don’t worry, this all happens in the first few pages.)  The book then focuses on the next few months in their lives, as they try and help each other – or cause problems for each other.

I have read and enjoyed Nick Hornby’s books before, and had been meaning to read this one for, literally, years.  It wasn’t what I expected – for some reason I cannot remember, I expected the whole book to take place in one night, on top of the building.   The book is narrated by each of the four characters in turn, so we see certain events from multiple points of view.  It’s a format that I usually like, and I think it worked well in one sense.  All of the characters were very different, so it seems logical to give them all their own distinct voice.  However, I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole.

I think the main issue I have is that it all seems too implausible.  The premise is certainly interesting, but certain events which followed just didn’t seem very likely at all, and so I was never really able to invest in the story.  Jess was such a dislikable character, that even though she really did have some major issues to deal with, I could not feel any empathy or sympathy for her whatsoever.  She was completely and utterly cruel for no other reason than for the sake of being cruel.  I don’t think it’s necessary to like every character, but surely they should make you feel something for them?!

On the plus side, it was an undemanding read, which sounds an odd thing to say about a book featuring four suicidal main characters, and there were some amusing moments.  I liked JJ, and I felt sorry for Maureen.

Overall though, I would say this is my least favourite book out of those I have read by Nick Hornby, and something of a mixed bag.  Not brilliant, not terrible, just….so-so.

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Brenda and Sherilyn never felt like they fitted in anywhere until they met each other.  They always believed that no-one cared about them, or barely even noticed them, but when they first see each other, a instant bond is formed which is so strong that nobody can come between them – not even their own child. They have a daughter, but resent her intrusion into their lives so much that they take horrific measures to get rid of her.

There are no spoilers in this review, as it becomes obviously early on in this book that the Gutteridges have murdered their child in the most stomach churning fashion, and this book takes the reader through the circumstances leading up to the crime, their arrest and trial.  It is narrated by several characters, including the neighbour who can’t help wondering if she should have done something sooner; the harassed social worker who blames herself for not being more thorough; the police officer who stumbles upon the scene of the crime; Brenda and Sherilyn themselves, and their families.

The writing is, on the whole, excellent.  Despite there being a large number of narrators, each one has their own distinct voice, and their stories really drew me in.  They reflected the horror that we all feel when we read about such crimes and the bewilderment at how anybody could do such a thing.  The first half of the book was more interesting to me, but the story did have me gripped throughout.  There was one aspect which I found difficult to believe – this being the idea that Brendan and Sherilyn were so ‘in tune’ with each other that their minds became one, even when incarcerated separately.  This was probably the only flaw in the book, although for other readers, it may serve to enhance the writing.

So, would I recommend it?  In all honesty, I would hesitate to do so.  As a piece of terrific and gripping writing, I definitely would, but make no mistake – this is a truly disturbing piece of writing, which plays on people’s most basic fears.  Definitely a book which makes a serious impact.

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Meet the Battles: Mo, the mother is fast approaching 50 and feels grey inside and out.  The sparkle has gone out of her life and out of herself, and even though she’s a trained child psychologist, she doesn’t seem to understand her own children.

Dora is nearly 18, and is struggling to juggle her friends, her boyfriend woes, her dreams of becoming a pop star and her addiction to Facebook.

Peter is 16 and insists on being called Oscar, after his hero Oscar Wilde.  He is very intelligent, if perhaps slightly delusional and is about to develop a crush on a most unsuitable candidate.

Even the poor dog Poo has landed in a sticky situation – pregnant by an unknown suitor!

The story is narrated by these three characters, who also make references to their husband/father who’s always in the background trying to hold everything together.

The family are all living in their own worlds, and they’re lurching slowly from one crisis to the next one, and at some point things are going to collide…

Earlier this year I read Dawn French’s autobiograph of sorts (‘Dear Fatty’), which I enjoyed but found difficult to initially get into.  I had no such difficulties with this book, which captured my attention from the beginning.  It’s alternated in turn by Mo, Dora and Peter/Oscar, and the three voices are very distinct.  However, I did think that Dora’s character in particular was very much a stereotype (although this did not stop me warming to her as the story progressed).

The book is essentially a comedy, and while it did not make me laugh out loud, it certainly made me giggle and smile a lot.  However, in amongst the comedy, there were some touching moments.  Oscar, who seems so self-obssessed for much of the story, proves that he can be caring and thoughtful.  And it’s not long before the combative and stroppy Dora is soon revealed to be lacking in self confidence and uncertain about her future.  However, I did find some of her segments slightly jarring (because she like, overused like the word ‘like’ constantly), due to the exaggerated teenage language.

The husband, who for the most part is only known to the reader through the words of his family easily comes across as the most sympathetic member of the family, closely followed by Mo’s mother Pamela, who is also only known to the reader through the words of the family.

My favourite parts were those narrated by the fabulously intelligent Oscar, who has clear delusions of grandeur.  While it would have been easy to dismiss him as ego-centric and self absorbed, he showed moments of genuine tenderness and thoughtfulness.  He loves to talk in the style of Oscar Wilde, and his observations and remarks were often acidly funny.

Overall, while some parts of the book were slightly cliched and predictable, there was plenty to enjoy in this book, and I would recommend it to others as a light and easy read, with some moments of genuine poignancy.

(I would like to thank British Bookshops and Stationers for sending me this book to review.  British Bookshops and Stationers website can be found here.)

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This is the story of three generations of one family.  Charlotte Cooper is 17, about to do her A levels, and suddenly discovers she’s pregnant.  Her mother Karen is furious with her, not least because she had Charlotte at the age of 16, and has always tried to stop her daughter making the same “mistakes” that she did.  But it’s not long before Karen finds something out which makes her question her role in her family and wonder whether there isn’t a better life waiting for her somewhere.  Meanwhile, Karen’s mother, Nancy Hesketh, who lives with them, is slowly succumbing to dementia, which is causing all sorts of chaos.  But when she’s not posting her grandaughter’s homework in the toaster, or hiding letters under the sofa, she reminisces silently about her life.

This is a very enjoyable and undemanding read.  The multiple narrators (Charlotte, Karen and ‘Nan’) ensure that we see events from each point of view – although Nan’s contributions are generally short and relate to the past rather than the present situation.  The main body of the story is told through Karen and Charlotte’s narration.

All of the three main characters are believeable.  The constant locking of horns between Charlotte and her mother will also have many teenagers and parents of teenagers nodding in recognition!  The story is touchingly told, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well.

My only niggle with this book was the ending seemed rushed, almost as if the author had said what she wanted to say and just wanted to end the book quickly, and a few smaller aspects of the story did not seem completely resolved.  But overall, this is a good book – probably aimed more at the female market – and one which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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As the title would suggest, this book is the story of the world’s most enduring rock ‘n’ roll band, the Rolling Stones – in their own words.

In 2002/2003, the Rolling Stones celebrated 40 years together, by embarking upon the ‘Forty Licks’ world tour (I was lucky to see them in amazing form in Prague).  During that tour, a team of four interviews, including Sir Tim Rice and Down Loewenstein (son of the band’s financial advisor of three decades), interviewed the group at length, and this book is the result.

The book is divided into chapters, with each chapter covering one period in the Stones’ career.  The four members of the group relate their memories, and the narration chops and changes between each member, so that it comes across as a conversation between them, rather than four separate interviews.  At the end of each chapter is an essay by somebody who has had some dealing or interest in the band’s career, including Don Was, who has produced some of their albums; Sheryl Crow, who has supported them on tour; and author Carl Hiassen, an avid fan who was lucky enough to meet the band and spend some time with them.

There are mostly good and a couple of not-so-good parts to this book.  I liked the fact that the interviews were obviously informal, and each member of the band’s personality came across really well – Mick Jagger being sensible and businesslike, Keith Richards being unconventional and uncompromising, Charlie Watts being always polite and reasonable, and Ronnie Wood leaping about with boundless enthusiasm.  Also, the short, ‘choppy’ style of the writing (each excerpt from each member’s interview is no longer than two pages, and sometimes no longer than one sentence, although they all generally have several entries in each chapter).  This makes is very easy and quick to read.

However, there is no input whatsoever from Bill Wyman, who was a member of the band for a very long time, and also no input from Mick Taylor who had the unenviable task of becoming guitarist after Brian Jones was sacked, and who subsequently remained in the band for 5 years.  It would have been interesting to get their perspectives.

This is not as involved and detailed as other biographies I have read of the band; however it is told in the words of the band members themselves, so is therefore obviously very credible.

It probably goes without saying that, as with all biographies, this is really a book for fans only, but I would add that even if your interest in the band is only a passing one, you would probably find something to enjoy here.

(Rolling Stones website can be found here.)

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