Tag Archives: Book reviews

Book review: Fludd by Hilary Mantel

This gentle ecclesiastical comedy, published in 2010, borders on the satiric, and is utterly different from the two Hilary Mantel books I’ve already reviewed1. Its dry humour often produces a kind of tickling in the upper reaches of the abdomen, that wants to break out into a full blown laugh but never quite makes it!

In a foreword, Mantel informs us that the real Fludd (1574-1637) was an alchemist, alchemy portraying a world that not only has a literal and factual dimension but one that is also symbolic and fantastical. And that’s an apt representation of this story, which hints at hidden meanings, actions and motivations, lurking beneath the surface of everyday life in 1956 in a fictitious village called Featherhoughton and the neighbouring community of Netherhoughton.

Eye-catching similes (for example, the church door “opened with its customary groan, like a jaded actor falling back on proven effects”) and metaphors (eg “she had tombstone teeth”) abound – and add sparkle to this sometimes dark, somewhat absurd, award-winning tale.

The Fludd of the novel’s title is a young curate brought in by the local bishop to liven up the appeal of the village church. Fludd’s appointment immediately gets tongues wagging and his effect on the neighbourhood is decidedly different from what was anticipated. As the story unfolds, it opens out into a catalogue of the foibles of a number of the characters in this cloistered, constrained society, with its rules, regulations and quirky routines, whilst all the time implying something about the foolishnesses of the wider world. To that extent, and though the nature of the prose is very different, I was reminded of Dylan Thomas‘s Under Milk Wood and the way it holds up to ridicule the mores of an inward-looking community and the individuals and groups who populate it. On more than one occasion I also felt, style-wise, that I was reading a third person version of Virginia Woolf‘s stream of consciousness.

Although there’s much caricature in the novel, Mantel certainly makes us stop and think. This is a book that can prompt us to reflect on our own character and attitudes and, shudder the thought, occasionally see aspects of ourselves in these seemingly ridiculous people.

It’s a clever admixture of religion, doubt, love, deceit, obsession, intrusion, denial and many other emotions and essences. In short, this fairly brief, comic novel presents a little world of universal and often inconvenient truths.

1 See my reviews of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

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Book review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Rarely have I found the reviewer’s cliché “page turner” more appropriate than in the case of this new thriller.

Award-winning author Adrian McKinty‘s writing style in The Chain is spare and direct. But this only serves to match the emotional turmoil created in the mind of the main protagonist. Facing unspeakable threats and having to deal with agonising dilemmas, she invariably needs to move fast to meet seemingly-impossible deadlines and follow instructions to the letter, if her child is to be returned to her safe and well.

The pace is breathless, right from the opening paragraphs. This is one of those stories that digs its hooks deep into the reader’s credulity, leaving one worrying that any criminal individual or gang could employ such methods to force parents to pay a ransom. The blurb on the dust jacket neatly summarises the plot’s premise:

Your phone rings. A stranger has kidnapped your child.

To free them you must abduct someone else’s child.

Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child.

If any of these things don’t happen, your child will be killed.

You are now part of The Chain. 

If this framework for the plot line sounds credible, it may well be because McKinty based it on actual, similar kidnappings in Mexico which he heard about while on holiday in Mexico City.

Published in July, the work has already catapulted him into the novelistic big league. According to reports, his publishers have agreed a six-figure, two-book contract, whilst Paramount Pictures have signed a seven-figure deal for the film rights.

The book opens with a display of six full pages of glowing, hyperbolic reviews from celebrities such as Stephen King (‘This nightmarish story is incredibly propulsive and original. You won’t shake it for a long time’), Ian Rankin (‘Scary, plausible, gripping’) and Mark Billingham (‘The Chain is a unique and unforgettable thriller. Breath-taking, breakneck, brilliant’).

For me, one very important quality of this great thriller is that the nail-biting tension builds right to the end, with a dénouement that doesn’t disappoint.

 

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