Thursday, 14 January 2016

One Of Us: Anders Breivik by Asne Seierstad / In Loving Memory by Jenny Telfer Chaplin / The Bordello Kid by Kendall Hanson

One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by ├ůsne Seierstad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of One Of Us: Anders Breivik And The Massacre In Norway by Asne Seierstad from its publishers, Virago, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Having been as shocked as the rest of the world by the horrific attacks on Oslo and Utoya, I was keen to read this account by Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad. Interestingly, she is known for her reports from troublespots around Europe and the Middle East and never thought she would be called upon to write similar material about her own country.

One Of Us is incredibly well researched. Seierstad sat through Breivik's trial and read all those documents. She also read his own manifesto and other writings, studied police reports, and conducted extensive interviews with his surviving victims, their families, and people who had known Breivik in his youth. The resulting book is a clever blend of biography and journalism written in a style that is more usually associated with fiction. However everything here is saddeningly and shockingly true. At over 500 pages, this is a longer work than I would usually choose, but it kept me engrossed from beginning to end. We learn not only about Breivik's past, but are also given fascinating portrayals of several of his victims - a Kurdish family who had escaped Iraq, a Norwegian teenager destined to fly high in the Labour Party and others. One Of Us isn't really a book to 'enjoy' as such but admirably rewards its readers' time. The attention to detail is amazing and the book always feels respectful even though sections such as the day of the massacre itself are emotionally difficult to read. Some aspects of the disaster have depressingly obvious causes - lack of police communication in the immediate aftermath of the bomb - others will probably never be completely understood - what ultimately triggered Breivik and why - but I feel that One Of Us goes a long way towards explaining such an in-depth subject to a general readership.

In Loving Memory by Jenny Telfer Chaplin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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In Loving Memory appealed to me because of its setting - Glasgow at the time of the Radicals - which I didn't know much about. Unfortunately, I still don't know much because, while historical events such as the Radicals and the Bread Riots are namedropped, they are not explained. Most of the novel's convoluted plot takes place in our protagonists' homes where two-dimensional characters argue frequently and, again, without much background given so I found it difficult to understand the whys of many decisions. They speak in a phonetically spelt Scots brogue that took a little getting used to, but does at least add some atmosphere. However my main gripe is the device of huge events happening to our characters off the page. At one point a chapter ends with a family boarding a ship, then the next chapter starts five years after the shipwreck. Hello? What shipwreck?!

In Loving Memory is my first book for the 2016 Read Scotland Challenge so, disappointingly, I'm not off to a great start. I discovered some brilliant Scottish books last year though so am sure I will do better as the year progresses.

The Bordello Kid by Kendall Hanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Author Kendall Hanson contacted me on Twitter over the New Year asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing one of his Western novels in return for signing up to his e-mail newsletter. I usually ignore this genre completely so thought it might be fun to take a chance - new year, new genre, new author - and the serendipitous discovery paid off. I very much enjoyed reading The Bordello Kid.

Set primarily in the bars and brothels of small town Seven Rivers, The Bordello Kid has an expertly evoked atmosphere which reminded me of the great TV series Deadwood. I loved our first sighting of soon-to-be lead character Farr who is described walking into town haloed by the setting sun. Hanson takes time creating believably real characters which I appreciated as the novel itself isn't particularly long. Although, obviously, portraying a sexist society, Hanson is as convincing when writing female characters as male ones so our story is definitely more thought-out historical fiction than macho shoot-em-up tale. Having said that, there are violent scenes, not gratuitous, but shocking all the same.

The Bordello Kid is the first in a series of at least four novels (so far) so I was glad to find myself reading a complete story arc, threads left open for sequels but with a satisfying sense of closure. I was so impressed that I have already downloaded the second volume, The Saloon War at Seven Rivers, to my Kindle. If you prefer a physical book, The Saloon War is also available in paperback from tomorrow (15th January 2016).

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1 comment:

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