Sorry for some technical difficulties yesterday - I'm going to blame my faulty internet connection. The USB Wireless thing was sticking out the back of the computer, when I accidentally smashed it against the window sill, and it came apart. Now works only sporadically. I went into Argos today but they didn't have any in stock, so I shall have to be patient.
Anyway, as promised, here is my report back on three books published by Two Ravens Press. As always, the absence of 'b's is not intentional... I'll write about these novels in the order that I read them - which also, coincidentally, happens to be the order I'd place them evaluatively.
First off, Parties by Tom Lappin.
It took me some time to notice the pun on 'parties', despite the fact that the cover, with its ballgown and political rosette, give the game away. Yes, this is about parties of both a social and a political nature, and specifically Beatrice, Grainne, Richard and Gordon. I'm going to be brutally honest - after the first chapter I had made up my mind. I wouldn't mention it on my blog, because I don't like being critical about new books, especially those published by small presses, but I did not get along with at all. It was only the fact that I'd been sent the novel that made me continue at all. Thank goodness I did.
I don't know what it is, but the first few pages seem like another novel to the rest - or perhaps I just needed time to get into Lappin's world and writing. Either way, I encourage potential readers to persevere - having read a couple of other reviews, I see I wasn't the only person who almost gave up. Keep going.
Parties is structured so that each chunk of the novel has a one-word subtitle - Crisps, Coffee, Champagne, Beer etc. - and the following section is divided again into Beatrice, Grainne, Richard, Gordon. Not always that order. And what Lappin has done, one gradually realises, is write a magnificent bildungsroman - but in actual fact four of them in one. There are four protagonists, each so rounded and stunningly, painfully accurate and whole that it is difficult to believe they are not real.
Beatrice is a very beautiful part-Italian who bewitches men (mostly her tutors) but has a wry intelligence and discontent which the reader sympathises with, and allows her to be approachable as a character. Grainne is a little podgy and has manages to combine dreaming optimism with self-loathing and realism - she is paired with Gordon, a political climber who will exhaust everything and everyone to reach his pinnacle. Richard writes musical journalism and has listless relationships, while always admiring Beatrice.
It is hopeless to define these characters so briefly, since they are complete and can only truly be understood when the novel is read. I found Beatrice and Grainne the stand-outs of the four, but really all four are needed. Though their paths throughout the novel are dogged with disilluion and dissatisfaction, there remains an undeniable warmth and truth to the novel throughout. Quite unlike the sort of novel I usually read, but so utterly engaging that the characters remain in my head several months after I read Parties. Not for the faint-hearted, perhaps, but a striking work which I would foist on you - if you can get through the first pages. Oh, and I am the most apathetic person in the world when it comes to politics (which I'm sure would displease the author immensely) so if you have the slightest interest in that area, you'll probably value Parties even more.
Next, Nightingale by Peter Dorward
I shan't talk as much about the other two novels, as they didn't affect me as much, but this is still an admirable book. Rosie is in Italy on the journalistic track of a 1980 bombing. She is also encountering her father, Don, for the first time in many years. And he was a witness at the bombing. Political thrillers, again, aren't top of my list of favourite genres, but Dorward presents this one as a tale about relationships, trust, lies, self-exploration and the like. It is divided into three - the first section sees Rosie exploring and interviewing, and recognising her own inability to tackle all the issues head on. The second section flings us back to the time of the bombing, and the exploits of Don. Eventually we are back with Don and Rosie as the mysteries are settled.
I found the first and third sections the most satisfying - perhaps because it is easier to sympathise with Rosie's position as investigative, confused, intelligent but naive. Don's plight was rather more self-enduced, and tales of sex, drugs and longing, though not paramount, were less able to grip my attention.
Finally The Most Glorified Strip of Bunting by John McGill
A novel about the United States Polar expedition of 1871-73? This is what I meant about Two Ravens Press publishing things you wouldn't see elsewhere, and a topic I wouldn't have dreamt of reading about unless it had been sent to me. This trip was doomed, as may or may not be common knowledge, and this novel has a predicated ending of deaths a-plenty. Throughout a fairly witty narrative, sections of a court case (or rather interviews in a criminal investigation) are interspersed, surrounding a potential poisoning. I think, given another time and place, I might have really liked McGill's novel, but I just found it difficult to connect with the subject matter. Perhaps because it was close to Christmas and I fancied something cosy. Even having said that, I didn't dislike the novel, and it was obviously well-researched, but with character always at the forefront, and never sacrificed to facts and figures.