Monday, 20 October 2014

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver / The Famished Road by Ben Okri / Lone Shark by Tin Larrick

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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I didn't read anything about Big Brother before I starting on the book itself so was initially intrigued by the premise of Pandora's dilemma at having to accommodate her morbidly obese brother within her family's home for an extended visit. I was drawn into the relationships despite said brother, Edison, being overly irritating and Pandora's husband, Fletcher, feeling somewhat two-dimensional and cartoonish. Something else I noticed early on was that all Shriver's characters have odd first names! After a while I began to wonder where the storyline was as I had read around a quarter of the way through the book and it still felt like scene-setting.

I found it hard to buy into Pandora's decision to dump her husband and his kids in favour of her brother. We are continually told that they are very close siblings and it's impossible to refuse a 'family thing' but this didn't ring true from the way the pair actually behaved at this point. It was like Shriver was contradicting her writing and I wasn't convinced. The diet the pair follow, Edison apparently for a whole year, is dangerous to undertake cold and with just a single doctor's visit and I didn't like that such a drastic measure is being publicised in a best-selling novel. It may work in fiction, but could increase health issues in real life, not solve them.

Finally, after much repetition and the odd inclusion of an Iowan flood, we get to the final climax and its aftermath. Obviously, I'm not going to state what happens as not everyone who reads this will already have read Big Brother, but REALLY?! That's the best you could come up with? It's a disappointing ending!

The Famished Road by Ben Okri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads - Nigeria book choices.

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It took me about 100 pages to really get into the language and style of The Famished Road as it is a very different book to anything else that I have read recently, if at all. Ben Okri's writing has an amazing fluidity that roams from harsh details of life in extreme poverty to incredible flights of surreal fantasy that left me amazed at how he invented such scenes. One one hand, not a lot happens in the novel. Azaro, a young boy whose eyes we see through, spends his time observing the adults around him, avoiding his drunken and abusive father, and hanging out in a local bar. Azaro is a spirit-child who has chosen to remain among humans, but is frequently contacted by bizarre apparitions who try to persuade him to die and, in so doing, come home.

Azaro's neighbours don't come out of the story well, being by turns greedy and grasping or opportunistic and selfish. The bar-owner, Madame Koto, aligns herself with local political heavies to become rich and powerful, also becoming fat and gout-ridden in the process. The rubbish-strewn street is frequently flooded and muddy, the rooms leak and are falling down, there is often not enough to eat and Azaro's mother especially works ridiculously long hours, yet there is always a strand of hope that makes what should be a depressing novel into an uplifting one.

I will criticise its length as the near 600 pages I think could have had more intensity if reduced to around 450. However, that aside, The Famished Road is a wonderful achievement of fantastic writing and magical surrealism.

Lone SharkLone Shark by Tin Larrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Lone Shark is my third Tin Larrick novel, although actually the second he wrote. Each, so far, is a stand alone story so I'm not messing up any story arcs for once!

By far the blokiest of the trio, elements of Lone Shark felt like a Guy Ritchie film and there is a fair bit of killing for no other reason than that's what this type of person would do. The plot is interesting and generally keeps up a fast place but I found the characters, other than our anti-hero, Jackson Towne, much more two-dimensional than in, say, Manukau Bluebirds. Larrick's descriptions of place and scene setting are excellent so it was easy to imagine his dystopian London and the furniture shop 'hotel' is a nice touch. Poor Newhaven doesn't fare too well!

I found it difficult to actually place the novel in real time as, although the synopsis states 2017, several of the text references seemed to throw us way past that while some tv namedropping particularly is oddly dated. This was distracting but not enough to ruin the atmosphere, just an occasional pull-up.

As a solid genre thriller, Lone Shark easily holds it own with best-selling authors and is more inventive than many of these. Larrick's real life police experience is well used to enhance without being overdone to make this book an entertaining escapist read.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

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