Category: fiction


Donna Tartt’s worst novel

THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt (Vintage Book, 2002)

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A creepy cover but, like the novel itself, I have no idea what it is meant to signify,

“The only thing keeping this book together is the binding” quipped one reviewer on Good Reads. It’s an exaggeration but I understand where this reader is coming from.

Donna Tartt’s second novel begins,like her first and third, with a violent death. The sister of a dead boy, Harriet,  vows to find out what happened. She’s a gutsy, unconventional young woman and the strength of this character raises hopes that this might be a tight and nail-biting murder mystery or at least a gothic melodrama of sorts.

It is neither.

The main failing is that the tightness and control displayed so brilliantly in The Secret History is absent. Instead, the looseness that made the conclusion of The Goldfinch such a disappointment is all too present.

When Donna Tartt is writing about domestic dramas she is good at exposing “the tiny flaws and snags in the thread of reality” and creates tension in the most mundane of family situations. When she tries to write about characters from the wrong side of the tracks the credibility factor begins to falter. Drug dealers and violent delinquents are not her forte. Long passages here try desperately to create a Dickensian sweep involving good vs evil; right vs wrong but end up being merely sprawling and unfocused.

It picks up briefly towards the end with a couple of good action sequences but by then I’d ceased caring.

jobs

Micahel Fassbender ponders how he got talked into playing the role of Steve Jobs.

STEVE JOBS directed by Danny Boyle (USA, 2015)

The remarkable life of Steve Jobs cannot possibly be condensed into 122 minutes without making significant compromises. You have to distort events to create a cinematic reality. The problem of Danny Boyle’s movie, however, is that the bounds of credibility are pushed too far.

Scripted by Aaron Sorkin from William Isaacson’s biography, it takes such monumental liberties with the facts that what we are left with is a crude approximation of a complex man rather than a detailed insight into what elevated him to greatness.

His relationship with daughter Lisa may have been significant in real life but it’s hard to believe that she had such a major influence on his working philosophy.

In one key scene, Lisa works alone to ‘paint’ a picture on the early Mac causing Jobs’s hard heart to melt. It’s a touching moment but it never actually happened. It only serves to make you wonder how many other details in the movie are made up. The prominence given to the father-daughter relationship is all the more bizarre since Jobs’s wife and three children don’t figure in the story at all. Continue reading

IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS by Tim O’Brien (First published 1995)

itlw3Twenty years on from his debut non-fiction work – If I Die In A Combat Zone – this novel by Tim O’Brien shows that the author is still burdened by the memories of his year spent in Vietnam.

The tale begins as a study of a marriage in which whatever glow there once was has long since faded.

We meet democratic politician John Wade and his wife who are holed up in a remote cabin, escaping the public humiliation of a heavy electoral defeat.

His previously high standing with the voters has nosedived after his involvement in the atrocities at Mai Lai is exposed. Kathy never seems entirely sympathetic to his plight.

Prior to his downfall she had had a brief fling with her dentist and her sudden disappearance doesn’t initially cause him great concern.

Eventually he wakes up to the idea that something bad may have happened to her. In a series of hypotheses, possible scenarios are laid out but early on O’Brien warns the reader that we will never be told what really became of her.

The ‘evidence’ chapters mix real quotes with fictional ones but these increasingly strike you as a contrived series of red herrings. It’s as if O’Brien started out with the notion of writing a mystery story then got bored with the idea.

This is a shaggy dog story, albeit one with adult themes. As such,  the author effectively removes most reasons to keep on reading.

On top of this, we quickly get to realize that the man Kathy left behind was a jerk before his wartime traumas and is an even bigger jerk after.

A story like this demands that you should feel a degree of sympathy for one or other of this ill-fated couple but redeeming factors in both are in short supply. There are half-baked hints that she may have been murdered but knowing that you will never know doesn’t exactly make this into much of a page turner.

The would-be drama is offset by prolonged flashbacks to the horrors of war that don’t properly belong here.

Tim O’Brien writes succinctly but the plot goes off at too many tangents and leaves all the interesting questions dangling.

Walking the Green Mile

THE GREEN MILE by Stephen King (1996)978711

This is a curious hybrid of a novel combining horror, crime fiction, social realism and fantasy.

There’s even a hint that it is intended as a religious allegory.

King himself admits that the novel is an experiment. It originally appeared in six installments in the New York Times with each part needing to end in a way that left the “constant reader” wanting more.

This is the way novels of old, notably those of Charles Dickens, were presented to the public and King was curious to see if he could get modern-day audiences hooked in the same way.
It helps ,of course, that he loves to surprise and shock in fictional works that are always strongly plot driven. Continue reading

ON WRITING – A MEMOIR by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000)

Instead of a book, this could easily have been a post on Facebook by his wife Tabby on why Stephen King would never write again.

It was finished as part of the recuperation following horrific injuries King sustained after being hit by a truck while walking near his home.

It takes King an average of three months to write the first draft of a novel. This ‘manual’ was only half finished after 18 months and its completion is a testament to his determination and love of the art and craft of writing. Continue reading

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