Author Archives: Nollaig

Through A Glass, Darkly by Bill Hussey

Synopsis from Amazon:

The Demons have woken, the Dreaming has begun…
When a young man goes missing from the Fen village of Crow Haven, Inspector Jack Trent is sent to investigate. He finds an isolated, insular community which harbours a shocking secret. A secret he has already glimpsed in his dreams. Now, in a race against time, Jack must piece together the mystery surrounding Dr Elijah Mendicant and the ancient Darkness of Crow Haven. He must save the life of an innocent child and stop an ageless evil from rising once more.
But doubt remains. Can Jack overcome the demons from his past? And what will he make of the Doctor’s final, devastating revelation?
The Doctor will see you now…

This novels features an immense depth of fictional history, that of persons and places and evil. Even for 440 pages, this novel condenses several life stories and then some – but it never loses coherency. As much as you’ll want to devour it, it’s carefully thought out and designed to be ingested slowly; mulled over in order to fully appreciate it’s multi-layered content. It features a little bit of everything – emotional intelligence, the everyday trials of parenthood and relationships, the working tribulations of a day on the police force; all alongside an exploration of more philosphical concepts. Personal demons – both physical and figurative, human fear, and strength and weakness all beg contemplation in this well-rounded novel which transcends it’s categorization as mere ‘horror’.

Complemented by an artist’s hand, the characters are the backbone of this story. Good and evil (and where does one draw the line?) alike, they’re credibly complex. Even the secondary characters have careful attention paid to them – though not necessarily integral to the plot, or even frequently encountered, they each have their own likeable (or unlikeable) personalities – particularly Jarski. Jack’s boss allows some laugh out loud moments, as well as retaining a level of reality amidst the un-reality of supernatural. The demon-plauged anti-hero himself, Jack Trent, is a character worthy of his own series of novels, just to discover how these all-too-real demons have determined the intricacies of his less than normal existence. By the heart-wrenching, soul-satisfying twists at the end of the novel, it will take you by surprise just how emotionally attached this character you’ve become.

All in all, it’s a very visual book, surprisingly graphic in parts and disturbingly dark in others – Hussey’s being hailed as the new Clive Barker is greatly justified. It journeys right to the edge of all things grotesque and psychologically horrifying – and then goes just a little further. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s also not gratuitously explicit – it’s substantiated by a rich story, a subtle address of complex characters and an artistic grasp on the language that’ll make you cringe and wince as it unfolds. At times it’s a heavy read, but it’s highly original in it’s exploration of the truly terrifying, and a most rewarding read. All in all this isn’t just another cliched scary story, it’s an absolutely stunning introduction to the newest master of horror.

10/10

Publisher: Beautiful Books

R.R.P: £7.99

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First Night by Tom Weston

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Synopsis from back cover:

Alexandra O’Rourke, aged 16, is not a happy camper. It’s New Year’s Eve. She should be partying in San Diego with her friends, but instead she is stuck in Boston, with just her younger sister, Jackie, for company. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she is being haunted by Sarah, the ghost of a seventeenth century Puritan. Oh, and there is the small matter of the charge of witchcraft to be sorted out. Armed only with big shiny buttons and a helping of Boston Cream Pie, the sisters set out to restore the Natural Order. Can Alex solve the mystery of the Devil’s Book? Can Jackie help Sarah beat the sorcery rap? And can they do it before the fireworks display at midnight?

‘First Night’ is a highly original, quirky arrangement of humor, intelligence, research and a dash of courtroom drama. What first drew my attention to this novel was the level of history it appeared to draw upon, classing it in my mind as Historical Fiction for young adults. Indeed, it doesn’t disappoint. The author’s passion for history and love of the city are quite clear in the depth of research applied. Each chapter begins with a photo of an actual building, monument etc. in Boston, and a historical quote, which are often related to the central focus of that chapter. This supernatural story is firmly rooted in facts, and offers an abudance of information about Puritan life, customs and witch trials. This adds a level of realism and appeal which struck a chord with the adult in me, while my inner child was entertained by the witty, quick fire exchanges which highlight an action packed adventure of mystery and suspence.

First Night reads like a Young Adult novel – which is precisely what it is; it’s a fast paced, easy read which never gets overly involved. Well defined (but slightly underdeveloped) characters and a short although deep plot never quite allow you to forget that it is, in essence, aimed at a younger audience. Despite this, I found myself slightly disappointed that it is a Young Adult novel, as the standard of writing and concepts it explores surpass any typical Young Adult novel I’ve read. The language is precise, at times sarcastic, and above all highly intelligent. With regard to concepts, this novel doesn’t treat it’s audience as something to be merely entertained, but also as something to be educated, and provoked to deliberation about various ideas in the process.

The story starts out light-hearted and humorous, but gradually, layer by layer, it escalates into the realms of moral contemplation, as the mystery surrounding Sarah Pemberton’s trial becomes unraveled and exposed. It contains philosophical and sociological infusions contrasting two time periods, which are seperated by 300 years worth of change in culture and perception. Perhaps the only downside is how rushed the ending is. It isn’t by any means forced, in fact it’s a superb ending, but it struggles to express itself within the page limit. By the end, I almost wished it had been a 500 page adult novel with more detail. All the same, if more authors wrote like this for teenagers, they’d be a lucky bunch. Overall, this is a carefully crafted gem for knowledge-seekers. Impossible to put down, I’d recommend this to anybody, teen or adult alike, who wants a bit of light-hearted, but intellectual substance in their reading.

Rating: 8/10

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Pack Up The Moon by Anna McPartlin

Synopsis from the back cover:

It was a night of laughter and celebration. But when John dies in a dreadful accident, his girlfriend Emma is plunged into despair. She loved John more than life itself – and now death has taken him from her. She feels nothing, she has lost everything, her world spins out of control. Or so she thinks. For Emma has friends – good friends who rally round. But the memory of that night returns to haunt each of them in different and trying ways. And Emma knows that if she is ever to laugh at life again, or find the love she once had, she will have to let go of the man she thought she couldn’t live without. She must let go and trust her heart.

Pack Up The Moon never directly refers to the poem by W. H. Auden featuring this line about the death of a loved one. Anyone who suspects this reference however, will be immediately offered a taste of what can be found in this novel – a kind of lamentation for somebody who was so wholly your world that it seems senseless to suggest you could continue without them. But that is not all this book is about. It is more particularly focused on the living that does, in fact, remain to be done no matter what, and the joy that can be found with time. The whole novel is constructed with a sense of retrospection and nostalgia. At times it felt like reading a memoir, and upon reading the ending I realised this feeling serves as a testament to the writing ability of the author. It includes a short bio about the author’s own life on the cover – and you can see how it comes into play. The rawest moments of heartfelt emotion are so sincere they cannot but be drawn directly from her own experiences, thus touching the reader on a most basic human level.

Readers will know from the outset that John dies – it says so in the synopsis on the back cover – so the challenge that remains for the author is to convey a character whose death the reader will mourn after only a precious few chapters knowing him. She succeeds. Not because of the particular person John was, but because of the emotion with which he is conveyed – the sheer contentment inspired by his very presence in Emma’s life and the jarring pain of his being ripped out of it. A similar sense of emotion-fuelled characterisation continues throughout the novel – McPartlin doesn’t overlook anybody, and I think it is more the secondary characters which give the novel it’s emotional edge. While I didn’t specifically relate to any of the characters themselves, in reading about them there is a sense of familiarity, like catching a glimpse of an old friend just for a moment. Doreen is every wise old neighbour and every second mum in the world all at once, Declan is every cheeky student we have taught, or gone to school with, dated or even been ourselves at some point in our lives. Despite the heart-breaking beginning, the novel as a whole is an uplifting release from the emotions that burden us all.

On it’s most basic level however, this novel is about the inherent tension between the opposing emotions we experience in the acceptance of loss, the crippling sense of missing someone who isn’t coming back; the tension between needing to be alone and being lonely – the lines between what we want to indulge in and the basic need to proceed. The author translates the reconciliation between emotions into a language which any reader can understand and apply within their own lives. Ultimately this serves to provide a sense of healing, which is perhaps what I liked best about this book. There is real happiness, real sorrow, drama, disappointment, and hope but above all a sense of learning to live life. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry – but you’ll close it’s covers feeling satisfied and at peace with the difficult subject matter presented in it’s pages; with tears in your eyes but a smile on your face.

9/10

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Synarchy, Book One: The Awakening by DCS

Synopsis from back cover:

A plan is exposed, centuries in the making, and so sinister not even the legend himself could have predicted the depth of it’s impact on the world. In his lifetime, Stephen Terenzio had a merciless ambition for absolute power. Two generations later the shock wave he ignited was still being felt. Now, as the world inches closer to December 21st, 2012 sides are chosen, families divide, and an epic battle begins that will determine whether mankind continues existing in a world of lies, or shatters the chains that have held us prisoner since history was written.

Fast paced, never a page without some action – twists and drama galore carry the reader though this book like reading a hint of what is to come. While it’s an action-packed book, it’s not so overflowing that it seems without depth – what the novel does is provide you with an almost sufficent (yet sure to leave you wanting more) taste of the characters, the story, the style. It features a complexity which is tough to harness in only a couple hundred pages, without being condensed or simply losing the reader along the way. This book requires your close attention, but it will grab it and keep it from the very first pages. It is absolutlely impossible to put down! Any time you tell yourself ‘just one more chapter’ – it’s not enough. You know every chapter adds a new layer to the story and you’ll tear through it trying to find the answers!

This book has something for everybody – from alien races and a secret from the world, to the emotionally invovled dramatics and politics of relationships easily understood by any reader. It successfully reaches across several genres, blending the lines between them and appealing to them all in one fell swoop. Spanning several decades, several generations, several races of beings – and only scratching the surface. The novel will definately leave you wanting more because it just isn’t enough – after such a well-rounded introduction it will be interesting to see how the author develops the depth and layers of her thrilling world as she proceeds. Not even a world – but a whole universe to be expanded upon. Book one is titled: The Awakening, and an awakening it is indeed, to a fantastic new creation that I for one cannot wait to read more of.

8/10

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The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies Of The Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

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Synopsis from Amazon:

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies Of The Apocalypse is set in Toy City. The Old Rich, who have made their millions from the royalties on their world-famous nursery rhymes, are being slaughtered. One by One. Horribly. A psychopath is on the loose and he must be stopped at all costs. It’s a job for Toytown’s only detective – Eddie Bear.

It is a fact well known to those who know it well, that this book is one of those books everybody should read. This book starts off rather like a child’s fairytale, and features a wonderful matter-of-fact tone and style of writing. Its pedantic focus on using words properly and interpreting meanings accurately lead to dodgy scenarios and hilariously sarcastic moments throughout. The author’s genius is clear in his ability to use this matter of fact tone to convey an adult story in a child’s setting – serial murders in Toy City. Many chapters begin with a brief character profile about a victim, or about a group or particularly a religion in the city – each is brief but gives an insight to a realistic depth of story. It is certainly no surprise to hear an entire sequel set in the same world has been written – it’s clear Toy City has plenty to offer.

The characters. Ahh the characters. Jack and Eddie Bear (former side-kick of Bill Winkie, M.I.A) are the unlikely heroic duo thrown together into the midst of a city plagued by a serial killer who is always one step ahead. Each murder is of a member of an elite group called the Preadolescent Poetic Personalities – a.k.a Little Boy Blue, Humpty Dumpty, Jack Sprat, and even Mother Goose (or in this case, Madame Goose, owner of a brothel.) Yes, violence, sex, car chases and teddies, this book has it all. You’ll find yourself trying not to giggle at the imaginative and darkly humorous methods of murderous mayhem, and even a penchant for a little alliteration too. It’s even got a deeper side to it (the implications of the religious undertones will hopefully not be lost on many.)

The story itself is fast paced, each chapter bringing with it a new death or revelation, provoking continuous reconsiderations regarding the identity of the killer. As the book draws to a close twist upon twist layer the novel, several clichés and several completely unexpected, so even the most attentive reader won’t be sure what is going to happen. This despite the somewhat meta-fictional nature of the book – meaning it occasionally draws attention to the fact that it is following along an established story structure, which just adds to the humor. In response to Eddie Bear’s question regarding the nature of an item called the ‘Maguffin’, – ‘’Certainly’ said Jack. ‘In all detective novels there is always a Maguffin. The Maguffin is the all-important something, the all-importance of which will not become apparent until it’s important moment has come.’’

The only thing I want to fault about the book is the miminalistic role played by the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies themselves. Having said that, the revelation of the actual murderer, it’s implications and it’s epic (and indeed apocalyptic) nature make it impossible not to forgive Rankin for this. This book takes what several authors have tried to do, and absolutely 110% perfected it. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Waiting by Ha Jin

Synopsis from Amazon:

For more than seventeen years, Lin Kong, a devoted and ambitious doctor, has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Mannu Wu. But, back in the traditional world of his home village lives the wife his family chose for him when he was young. Every year he visits her in order to ask, again and again, for a divorce. In a culture in which the ancient ties of tradition and family still hold sway and where adultery discovered by the Party can ruin lives forever, Lin’s passionate love is stretched ever more taut by the passing years. Every summer, his compliant wife agrees to a divorce but then backs out. This time, Lin promises, will be different.

Waiting is not a story about love, it is a story about life. Life in a culture a world away, where there is no freedom and no emotion, only obligation and rules. The author does not try to explain anything, he merely paints the picture and leaves it for the reader to interpret. He does not explain, he simply tells matter of factly of the repressive conditions of existence within the Communist China. At the same time, the prose is so wonderfully informative that it draws you right into the world – what at first may seem shocking later becomes surprisingly expected. On top of this then, is a story about human connection. Which is perhaps, why this is a difficult book to gather coherent thoughts about – human relations are in no way simple. The resulting feeling upon closing the covers is not just any one feeling – it is actually an amalgamation of various responses conflicting with what has just been experienced. Such is life.

In the world of Lin And Manna we see a world where there are no choices, only acceptance of roles given, and it is difficult to imagine how human relationships can survive. Indeed, the rigid, almost formulaic existence of these people makes it seem they do not survive. In Lin Kong’s wife, Shuya, one sees the ultimate acceptance of a structured life that is not of her own doing. At first, such acceptance seems intolerable to the reader, we must by nature almost pity her, or even despise her, for not opposing or even questioning the enforced conditions of her life. In Lin Kong’s relationship with Manna Wu, the reader sees a hope for something more – as frightening as the idea of never experiencing real emotions is, so the delight in this discovery is reassuring. For the majority of the book, the individual in us screams for the sucess of this genuine relationship, even in the face of the dutiful wife. In time and with understanding of circumstances however, I think it is safe to say Shuya is possibly the easiest character to relate to. She is understated but an overarching presence throughout the novel – the defining factor of Lin’s relationship with Manna, and in the end, Shuya is what it all comes down to.

The story is pulled along primarily by the characters, which ultimately never become entirely loveable – perhaps they are just too human. Lin in indecisive and at times completely inconsiderate, so it is difficult to either respect or condemn him. Manna is entirely human, and as such it is not always easy to like her. What they all are, however, is compelling – this vision of a life so different from our own which will in many ways ring true with any reader. The ending is not one I expected. I had several ideas about what might happen – but what did happen was the most obvious outcome. In a way, it was the best. It was the most… reassuring. I think even disappointed readers will find a sense of comfort in it, and as for myself, I thought it was superb. In a way, it provides far more hope than any other ending could have. It is the most wonderful account of emotions, ties and living. This story, being set in another place and time, will fool you into thinking it is going to end like fiction, but it doesn’t. It ends like real life.

Rating: 9/10

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Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth

Synopsis from Amazon:

London, 1889. Oscar Wilde, celebrated poet, wit, playwright and raconteur, is the literary sensation of his age. All Europe lies at his feet. Yet when he chances upon the naked corpse of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, posed by candlelight in a dark and stifling upstairs room, he cannot ignore the brutal murder. With the help of fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle, he sets out to solve the crime – and it is Wilde’s peculiar genius and his unparalleled access to all degrees of late-Victorian life – from society drawing rooms and the bohemian demi-monde to the criminal underclass – that prove the decisive factors in their investigation of what turns out to be the first in a series of bizarre and apparently inexplicable killings.

The first Oscar Wilde mystery is quite the unique affair. I was primarily eager to read it because I am such a fan of Oscar Wilde himself; as such, probably the harshest kind of critic there is for such a book as Gyles Brandreth’s, but no fan could ask for a more wonderful fictional tale. It is clearly well researched, and executed with exceptional talent. It is a carefully crafted, beautiful portrayal of a most wonderful artist, and an honest depiction of the ordinary man he was also. I have never read anything quite like it, but it’s certainly true as one critic says, ‘Oscar Wilde could not have done it better himself!’

The story features several historical characters, and an entirely fictional plot. Indeed, Arthur Conan Doyle features throughout the novel, and Robert Sherard openly plays Watson to Oscar’s Sherlock Holmes. The novel is brilliantly written, the plot progresses at the perfect pace and reads like a classic murder mystery. The language, the setting, the style of writing will draw you back a century as easily as any writer of the time. As for the plot, I vaugely suspected part of the outcome, but it is clear throughout we are never really supposed to know. Only a man with such as mind as Oscar’s could possibly deduce whodunnit! However it is, and I believe Brandreth intended this, more importantly a portrayal of Oscar Wilde. While the story is told from Robert Sherard’s perspective, and Sherard is known in his several biographies of Wilde for being more taken with Oscar than with facts, it’s clear that the appreciation for Wilde’s genius Brandreth holds is also shining through. He manages to capture the wit, the genius, the very charisma that made Wilde a celebrity in his day.

Initially, I wasn’t at all certain about the book. Being a well-read fan of Wilde’s, I recognized every ‘Wildean maxim’ this novel quotes, and there are quite a few included – so many that I wonder what is left for the second two books! This doesn’t detract from the novel as such, but it did very much draw my attention to the ‘constructed’ character of Wilde. I cannot really fault it however, it does Wilde’s character great justice, the depiction of his persona is exactly as I have always imagined it, and to anybody who is not so familiar with Wilde, it is the most perfect introduction to the man. Such reference to the man and such portrayal as there is indicates only extensive research and genuine regard for the task at hand. It captures him faithfully; not merely the genius, but the man with all his imperfections, endearing his character to the reader as easily as meeting Wilde himself would have done. In this novel a reader will catch a glimpse into the compelling, secret world known only to Wilde’s friends. Truly, it is for fans and unfamiliars alike – there is something for all to appreciate.

I must say, I’m extremely excited about reading the next two installements, if only to spend some more time with Oscar. Indeed, the narrator of the books, Robert Sherard, tells the tale after the death of Wilde, and the occasional melancholic recollections of the event brought tears even to my eyes. The lamentations of Wilde’s close friends will stir your heart as surely as Brandreth makes you feel Wilde was your friend also. “She died in Paris!” says Oscar in this story, ” – As all the best people do”.

Rating: 10/10

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Out Of Nowhere by Gerard Whelan

Synopsis from Back Cover:

A boy wakes up in bed in a room built of stone. He knows his name is Stephen, but he can remember nothing else about himself. He discovers that he’s in a remote monastery being looked after by a group of monks. Beyond the monastery walls, all traces of human life have simply disappeared. Villages deserted, doors left open, with taps left running, but no people. And with all means of communication down, he has no way of knowing if the rest of the world has disappeared too.
Then the visitors arrive, strange men with unnatural powers, and when he discovers who they really are it turns his whole world inside out and changes everything he ever believed.

Out Of Nowhere is a “28-days-later” style young adult novel, only arguably with a better plot. From the outset there is a complete lack of awareness regarding the goings on in the outside world – like the children Stephen and Kirsten the reader knows only that something is not quite right. Being set in an abbey in western Ireland, despite the year being 1999, is disorientating temporally, which greatly compliments the unreality of the apparent new world these people find themselves in. The novel does demand placement in the ‘fantasy’ genre for it’s apparent ‘supernatural’ elements, but more than anything it reflects a genuinely unsettling Lovecraftian distortion of our own world. This sense of the familiar being tinged with things that just aren’t quite as they should be and which have no obvious explanation, is far more psychologically troubling than the average horror or a typical fantasy would usually try to achieve. Perhaps the best example (and my favourite!) of this is the recurrent appearance of the two children’s doppelgangers. While they are harmless in this novel, doppelgangers have a (literary) history of psychologically disturbing more than physically harming, and this level of fear is very much the level the book works on.

The characters are not the strong point of the book. They play certain roles at best – and many of the monks are more likeable than the two main characters. However, it’s very much a plot-driven book, built on suspence.The characters become an extension of the reader, for the purpose of exploring this strange new world (for seeking out new life, and new civilisations?), for gaining insights into other races, other existences. At the same time, the monks are strongly characterised which works favourably as the story progresses. Some monks are religious, and believe devils are responsible. The secret history of the ex-‘freedom-fighter’ monk Philip, upon revelation, rings disturbingly true; it brings a distinct reality to the violence in human nature, which then contrasts with the necessary work of the ‘unnatural’ Agents, the Fix-It Men. In Simon a philosopher is seen, and his role of questioning adds another layer towards the end of the book when explanations are required – Simon mentions Plato but a certain delightful existentialism seems to eminate from the Fix-It Men.

The structuring of the novel is superb. The writing is straight-forward and each chapter is short. In terms of narrative, it’s mostly third person (when referring to the people) and first person (from the perspective of the other-worldly, murderous ‘agents’). This draws the reader’s sympathies towards the supernatural races, thus forcing an objective and unfavourable view of humans. Whelan has natural wit and avails of sarcastic humor throughout, which reflects mainly on the state of the modern world. While this book is intended for young adult readers, older readers will appreciate these subtle remarks – particularly Irish readers. Probably the most beneficial structural element is the division of the book into three parts – one of which deals with how the world is responding to this phenomenon. The author, having already written two young adult books about the political state of early 1900’s Ireland, doesn’t miss an opportunity to ground his fantastical story in the real world. He involves the international political uproar regarding the occurence, suggesting in a rather humorous manner how the world might deal with such an incredible event.

If this book can be said to have any fault, it is that it is too short. Perhaps this is my own personal criticism, because reading it as a child, it seemed much longer. It is only 240 pages, and while it is a well rounded, and certainly complete story, it does touch upon a whole history unbeknownst to humans. The novel could easily have made a full blown horror/science fiction masterpiece with the concepts (and another 200 pages) fuelling it, but that is not to say it is not superb in and of itself. The ending piles more onto the reader than the previous 180 pages, and while it just about gets away with the complete shift in atmosphere, it does seem to emphasize it’s own failing by just not adding more depth to the explanation. Shortness is to be expected of Young Adult books though, and I can’t deny that as a kid myself I thought this book was pure genius – and I’m more grateful that ten years on it still packs a punch.

Rating: 9/10

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Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Synopsis from Amazon:

Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets of Paris as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in all the city. Yet there is one odor he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill.

This book is beautiful and weird in equal amounts. It’s an extremely beautiful book, the writing, while heavy at times with descriptive pose, will draw you into it so much you won’t want to miss a single word. It took me about a week to read it (and it’s quite a small book) simply because I wanted to really absorb the information laid out among the pages. I, somewhat strangely, have a very poor sense of smell, and it’s not something that I really took any notice of until I read this book. The prose is almost exclusively based around olfaction, even when not describing the experiences of the main character, Grenouille. It paints a picture of Paris with smells so wonderfully dipicted that I felt convinced I would recognise Paris through my own inadequate nose.

The prose is an ample portion of the experience which constitutes this book – the actual storyline is most certainly not entirely what pulls it along. However, the storyline, when it clearly raises it’s head, is in posession of unusual features. It is by no means a realistic book, and it is entirely beyond my comprehension how this book is classed as a crime/murder/thriller type story. It is most certainly not about a man who chases virgins around Paris to kill them – the murders are secondary, portrayed as almost irrelevant (and they don’t really begin until quite late into the novel). Indeed, such is the skill of the author that the reader too begins to see these victims as irrelevant – what matters is acquiring a smell even more profound than those described so magnificently thusfar. The writing is so accomplished it draws the reader into Grenouille’s mind and introduces a rather twisted but glorious view of existence.

What matters is not how absurd the story becomes, and it does, it is the passion and the raw human instinct driving Grenouille towards what is most perfect for him in his corrupt world. I think any reader who fails to be carried along by this desire is missing the most fundamental effect of this book. The story becomes increasingly unlikely as it progresses until it reaches a most amusing but also most exquisite ending. There is some element of true perfection in what Grenouille achieves at the end of the novel – the creation of a scent so perfectly satisfying to one sense possessed by mere mortals, that it drives our most basic instincts wild. I personally found something ethereal in that, but perhaps I am reading into it too much. I think for all its incredibility the ending is the most apt one the author could have written, it is melancholic, bittersweet and impossible. Nothing leaves the heart longing like that which must be fundamentally denied to it, like perfection. I dare say this book is one I shall return to time and time again.

Rating: 10/10

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Spirit Horses by Alan. S. Evans

Synopsis from Amazon:

In the hills of Tennessee, Shane Carson, a gifted, nationally-recognized horseman, is living the good life. When a mysterious mustang shows up on his farm, Shane doesn’t know how–or why–the horse appeared, but the horse’s distinctive brand identifies her. She is one of the Spirit Horses, a rare, wild herd that runs free on the Shoshone reservation in Wyoming. Watched over for centuries in the tribe’s ancestral valleys, these exquisite horses, according to belief, provide a link to the afterlife.When tragedy strikes in his life, Shane nearly loses his will to live–but for one promise he made to his young son: to return the mustang to her rightful home.On this bittersweet journey, Shane finds a world where tradition reigns, and ancient beliefs transcend modern logic. In this magnificent expanse of blue sky and wide open spaces, love is alive, but hate, intolerance, and greed threaten to close in.To make good on his vow, Shane must face the danger that threatens these horses, the tribe’s legacy, and his destiny.

Spirit Horses is an accomplished first novel. It’s rare to find a new novel deeply involving horses or the lives of people who live around them, and it’s clear this book has been written from experience. The book starts off by taking some time to set a scene of an ideal life on a Tennessee ranch. At first I wasn’t entirely sure where this short account of several years of family life this was going, but when it becomes relevant in Chapter 4, I realised the full power of the writing up to that point. It’s deceptive, drawing the reader into a sense of such simple familiarity with these characters, only to have the harsh reality of life thrust upon you.

Perhaps the most engrossing aspect of the novel as a whole, then, is it’s ability to draw you into the world of its characters. You won’t see it coming, but as the story progresses you’ll suddenly find yourself feeling the anger, the happiness, the sheer determination of these characters. It moves along steadily, with the occasional shock to the system – a threat, an injury, a death. What this story does best is take a kind of life (and adventure) which most readers will never embark upon; and it layers that story with such credibility and moments of such real emotion that it’s impossible not to feel familiar with the peoples and places it portrays.

This is a different kind of fairytale. It’s very much the kind of story I can imagine members of the Shoshone telling their families. Not everything is happy, but in a way it all works out, and you can’t help but feel it’s the best possible outcome. The ending will have you in tears, but not because it’s sad or because it’s happy, but because of how it seems to be the most fitting culmination for the emotional aspect of the novel. More than anything, for me, this story was beautifully written portrayal of love in so many different veins. I promise you’ll close it’s covers with tears in your eyes, but a smile on your face.

8/10

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