Tag Archives: literary fiction

Review: The Plot ( Jean Hanff Korelit)

Jacob “Finch” Bonner wrote a well-received, well-reviewed first novel. He promptly wrote a second novel that was less so. Work on the third book he’s under contract to write is virtually nonexistent.

To pay the bills, Bonner takes a job teaching an MFA class on writing. When doing the meet and greet during office hours, most students are exactly as he thought: not many good ones, according to their reading samples. Except for Evan Parker. His sample, grudgingly shown, shows that he has talent and his arrogance about it is warranted. Eventually, Parker tells Bonner the story – the whole story – and Bonner concludes that the book will be very good indeed, and that the plot is so original that no one has ever written a book using it.

Bonner manages to make it through the term, and subsequently lands a spot teaching virtual classes in another place. He can’t stop thinking about Evan Parker, and is amazed to find that Parker died shortly after that class, without ever having published that book. Bad news for him, but good news for Bonner, who decides to shanghai the idea and write his own version off it. This book becomes a huge bestseller, he lands on Oprah’s show, Spielberg has snapped up the movie rights, and so on. He also goes on a book tour. One place he stops is a radio station on the opposite coast, where he meets a woman working for the station who tells him she read the book and loved it – ditto for his other books. They flirt a bit, and we see where this is leading.

But it seems someone knows what Bonner has done, and doesn’t have any second thought about letting him know. It starts with emails, escalates to social media, and then to actual paper letters..

She moves to New York to be with him, and do all the social things, which, to his surprise, she’s great at.. Bonner continues to get the creepy messages, but keeps this from his now-fiancee and eventually his wife.

The social media portion finally makes it the food chain to his editor and the boss and legal counsel for the publishing house, where they tell him not to worry, they’ve seen this sort of thing before. But he does worry about it, as there are things only someone Evan Parker could have told the story to see. We also get glimpses of the book,with two to three pages of it here and there.within the main book. By now, we’re following Bonner as tries to track down information about Evan Parker, those who knew him well, and who could be behind the machinations to expose Bonner as having lifted the idea from Parker’s draft.

This book reminded be a bit of the movie The Words, a movie about a book about a book, with a dash of Secret Window and The Hoax tossed in, topped off with Deathtrap, by Ira Levine. It’s a bit slow to get started, and somewhat ponderous as well – I attribute this to be mimicking what I suppose is Bonner’s literary fiction style. As things progress, the writing becomesĀ  looser. The ending is something I saw coming, and there’s a cold-heartedness in the reasoning behind why some people do what they do to set things right/get justice as best they can, as they see fit. My only quibble is that the plot of Parker’s book is deemed entirely brand new, and that no one has written anything like it, ever, which is not exactly true in our world (but perhaps is true in the universe of this book).

I’m giving The Plot 4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up to 5.

Thanks to Celadon and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Skylark’s Secret (Fiona Valpy)

There are some books that you can’t say a ton about in a review, because it all involves spoilers. This is one of those books. It isn’t to say that the details are worth skipping, because they are not. This is quite a good book about homecoming and relationships and how family members interact with one another and the world around them.

We have a protagonistic duo in this book – both daughter (to open the book) and mother (as we travel between time periods) are involved in making the story that is shaped by their experiences both in the small Scottish town in which they live but also by the larger world outside that town.

If you enjoy literary fiction with familial conflict and the secrets small towns can hold, you’ll very probably like this book, even if you have never set a toe on Scottish soil.

Four out of five stars.

Thanks to Amazon UK and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: The Forger’s Daughter (Bradford Morrow)

This is a slow starting book. And I don’t mean a “get past the first couple chapters slow” kind of book. I mean more along the lines of “get to about 30% on the ereader” kind of slow. The pace is enough to turn off the reader. This reader, however, plunged onward. I really wish I hadn’t, because outside of some things I’ll get into below, this book annoyed me. A lot.

Twentyish years ago, the now-reformed Wil was a forger, specializing in books and letters. What I did not know going into this book is that it is a sequel to a book called, aptly enough, The Forgers. I’ve not read that, but I will give this book points for at least being able to stand on its own. Annoyingly, however, this is only possible by the characters telling us all about what happened before. Wil got caught, lost part of his right hand, they moved, and so on. He’s now a stay at home dad who occasionally does consulting for the bookstore where his wife Meghan works, as well as authenticity checks for auction houses and book dealers to weed out forgeries. There is a humorous moment when Wil is asked to authenticate something that is his own forgery. Although he points out for the acquirers that it is, in fact, a forgery, without telling them it is *his* forgery, they proceed to overrule him and sell it at auction for a tidy sum. Most of the time – he tells us – they defer to his opinions.

We come to know – via incredibly stilted prose and dialogue, as if this is taking place in 1900 instead of now – that Wil’s old nemesis, Slader, is basically blackmailing him into copying Edgar Allen Poe’s first book, Tamerlane. Wil doesn’t seem to have much of a backbone to me, but there are vague threats and he gives in rather immediately, with his daughter Nicole – herself now an accomplished author and copier – pitching in. I suppose this is what the title meant, and the title implies that the daughter has taken over the forging (at least to me) and that’s actually what pulled me in to request it. Alas, it is not the case. Nicole mainly stands by while Wil does most of the work, occasionally going with him to various places because…..because the plot requires it/it’s in the script, I suppose.

There’s no real tension in the bits where Slader presents Wil with the copy he’s lifted from someone’s home, with a directive to get a forgery made by x date so he can slip the forged copy back in place and take the (also forged) one he’s lifted to sell without the owner being the wiser for it. Wil just gives us giant infodumps about how things were before and how he has all the feels, but in the end, we know forging is in his blood and what he loves to do – because the things he tells us in his lengthy monologues make us understand this is so.

In fact, there’s a TON of telling in this book, whether it’s Wil or Meg, in their confusingly presented, alternating narratives, running down “what came before” for the reader or just telling us how they feel in the moment. That’s the bad sort of telling. The good sort of telling are the details about forgeries and paper and ink and printing and the other things in which a bibliophile (like me; like the author, I presume) would be interested. Those are, unfortunately, the best part of this book.If the author were to write a nonfiction book about the history of forged books, letters, and papers, or even one restricted to a particular genre or author, I’d probably like that lot more than this, which is not very suspenseful, seemed to be wrongly attached to the mystery genre when it would seem more at home in the literary fiction group, and which has an ending I neither liked nor believed, even for a fictional tale.

I’ll go briefly into the language of the book – that is, the tone of the prose – as I’m not certain whether the author was writing this way intentionally or ironically (as I’d not read the book previous to this, so could not compare): as I said, this reads like a novel from 1900. The language is stilted for a 21st century couple. Eloquent it may be, but most people – even forgers and bibliophiles – do not speak the way Wil and Meg speak to the reader when they are doing what I always think of as the English parlor act: telling a tale in the age before television or internet, using language that my grandmother would have called high-falutin’. That is to say, their manner of speaking reminds me a great deal of academia, as the sort of oft-parodied tone of upper crust English novels or Downton Abbey and period shows like it. While I would be perfectly fine with this were Wil and Meg and their family placed in that time, it is not the case in this book, and here they (and the author) come across as pretentious.

As for the ending: I rarely say this, but I hated it. It doesn’t match the rest of the book, and at least part of it I would like to have known sooner, as it would have not just informed everything leading up to the end, but it would have informed a choice at the end as well.

If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll probably like those parts very much. It’s clear the author is either working in the field or has done a great deal of research in this area. If you’re looking for a more mystery-influenced novel, as I did, unfortunately, I don’t believe this reaches the level of a book you’ll stay up late into the night reading.

Overall: two stars out of five. Sorry, this simply was not my cup of tea.

Thanks to Mysterious Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Burning Island (Jack Serong)

Eliza Grayling – a woman who tends to her aging, blind alcoholic of a father – is approached by Srinivas, a Bengali Indian. Srinivas has a tale to tell her of a ship, lost with all its cargo and passengers, many of whom were women. He is not unfamiliar with ships lost to the sea or the pirates who sail on them; indeed, he believes that the person behind the disappearance of this ship is the mysterious Mr. Figge, with whom he sailed when Srinivas was merely a young orderly on another ship that foundered many years ago.

In this time, though, with this ship, Srinivas wants to enlist the help of Eliza’s father Joshua, who is also acquainted with Figge, and who also has business to settle with a man Eliza had thought more a myth than monster.

Eliza, for her part, points out that her father is in no ship to put out to sea, and that he hasn’t sailed in many years. Joshua insists, however, and because Eliza decides she must go as well, to care for him, the three of them embark on a journey to the Bass Strait on a ship called The Moonbird, along with a pair of convict brothers, a doctor studying marine life, and the crossdressing master of the ship.

The narrative language is lush, at times soaring so high one might think it will never alight on the page again. There are brief moments when it skips along the line marking the abyss of purple prose, but dances away before falling in. The book is not a fast read, nor is it without the weight of being informed by actual events. Readers who stay with the book will be rewarded through its ups and downs by a story well and remarkably told.

Five stars out of five.

Thanks to Text Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.