Sunday, 7 December 2014

Review of Cut Out by Fergus McNeill

Fergus McNeill wastes no time drawing the reader straight into the story, as a drug dealer comes to a sticky end at the beginning of Cut Out. 

DI Harland is paired with DS Imogen Gower to investigate the cruel murder of the drug dealer, but their case-load soon escalates as another person is reported missing, one who appears to be as far removed from the seedier side of life as is humanly possible. Harland and Gower bond over snatched meals as the missing person case becomes a priority, and discover each other's strengths and weaknesses as they go.

The main focus of the novel revolves around Nigel, a loner who spends each day in his flat manipulating and perfecting images that are sent to him by various companies. While he is sure of his skills with Photoshop, Nigel has minimal skills when it comes to developing friendships.

When Matt moves into the flat below he becomes the target of Nigel's envy and aspirations. The simplicity of the techniques Nigel uses to manipulate the situation to his advantage are frightening. It's the calm, measured tone in Nigel's voice as he ceases to behave normally and descends into a distorted reality that is truly unnerving, as his obsession with perfection colours all aspects of his life, blurring the lines between right and wrong. This chilling tale will have you checking the neglected areas of your living spaces to see if there's anything untoward hidden in them. 

Cut Out is an apt title for this twisty page-turner, as the different layers of each case are gradually built up to develop a clearer picture of the character defects that can make or break an investigation.

With thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for the review copy.

Follow the author on Twitter: @fergusmcneill
Find out more about the author here.

Here's Fergus McNeill talking about the concept behind his first novel Eye Contact

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Calling all fans of It's A Wonderful Life

A couple of years ago I discovered that the Broadway Cinema screens one of my favourite movies during Christmas week - It's A Wonderful Life.

Now I've seen this movie on TV and I have a DVD copy but nothing matches the feeling you get when you watch it on the big screen at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. There's something magical about being surrounded by people who know every scene in this movie and those who are seeing it for the first time. It's a collective feeling of goodwill that sets you up for Christmas Day. 

Go and treat yourself; make it your reward for the frantic negotiating, shopping, wrapping and organising leading up to the big day. This movie will also help you to put any seasonal disagreements or disappointments into perspective. Watching It's A Wonderful Life is a truly uplifting experience that reminds you how many lives you make a difference to simply because you exist, and that a kind word at the right time is the greatest gift any human being can give or receive.

The screening dates and times for December 2014:
Monday 22 December 12.30pm and 5.15pm
Tuesday 23 December 12.30pm and 5.15pm
Wednesday 24 December 12.30pm and 5.15pm

The Broadway Cinema details are here.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review of Killing For Keeps by Mari Hannah

The first three chapters of Killing For Keeps will send a chill down your spine as they set the scene for Hannah's fifth novel in the series featuring DCI Kate Daniels. 

I have to admit that when Daniels fastens the collar of her coat and tries to focus on the facts of the crime rather than the grim scene before her, I too felt a little queasy. Two brothers from the same criminal family are brutally murdered within hours of each other, one on a Newcastle industrial estate and the other in a busy A & E department, and it's up to Daniels to find out who committed these vicious crimes before they do it again. 

Hannah takes the reader through the complexity of police negotiations when dealing with gangland murders. Daniels is emotionally drained for much of the novel yet has to find away to keep going. Due to exhaustion, Daniels is snappy and sharp with her colleagues but even harder on herself, which is picked up on by those who care about her. It also means she's open to manipulation and is not as on the ball as usual. This is an interesting dynamic to explore as it demonstrates why it's important to look below the surface of every interaction and not take it at face value.

Hannah also explores themes such as how a young prostitute is viewed by the police and the public, and how the body language and words used by the police can make a witness come forward or bolt. Daniel's constantly questions her decisions throughout, giving a human face to the police force, demonstrating the emotional impact that each decision has on both herself, her colleagues and the witnesses and victims.

Daniels' working relationship with DS Hank Gormley continues to develop, as his ability to crack a joke or say the right words at the right time penetrate her occasionally stubborn mind and open her to new ways of thinking about the case. There are some hilarious moments that relieve the tension, as Gormley and Daniels bicker and re-bond like they've been married for years. Daniels's romantic life also remains as complex as ever as the 'will they, won't they' romance between her and  Criminal Profiler Jo Soulsby moves in an interesting direction. 

The plotting is tight, well executed and highly visual, and there's an intriguing new character with the potential for return visits in future novels in the series. The inclusion of the reports of the CCTV footage also creates a sense of authenticity to the investigation and offers an insight to how action points in criminal investigations are developed. Killing For Keeps is a thrilling addition to the DCI Kate Daniels series and there's a few surprises in store for dedicated fans.

Published by Pan Macmillian (with thanks for the review copy).
Follow the author on Twitter: @mariwriter
Find out more about Mari Hannah here

Mari Hannah is currently shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award 2014 and is the winner of the Polari First Book Award 2013.

The Broadway Book Club choice for December/January is The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

I loved The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber when I first read it in 2002, the voice hooked me from the first page as it drew me into the dark side of Victorian England. So I was delighted when a book club member nominated it for this year's Christmas and New Year read. It will be interesting to hear what other members think of the novel, and whether or not I still feel the same way after re-reading it, when we meet up again in January 2015.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Watch your step,
Keep your wits about you;
You will need them...

So begins this irresistible voyage into the dark side of Victorian London. Amongst and unforgettable cast of low lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge. 

The novel is available as an e-book, paperback and audiobook. It was turned into a successful TV series last year, see the clip below:

As it is the season of goodwill, and Michel Faber's new novel - The Book of Strange New Things - is on my wish list, here's the book trailer for it featuring Faber talking about the concept behind the novel.

Here's the gorgeous UK cover for The Book of Strange New Things

Both novels are published by Canongate 

The next Broadway Book Club meeting will be on Thursday 29 January at 7pm in the Broadway Cinema, Nottingham.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Review of Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen's new novel - Dying For Christmas - contains mind-blowing twists and the ending is incredibly creepy. It's one of those novels that you want to press into people's hands while exclaiming 'you have to read this!'

I won my copy in a competition at Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing festival in Harrogate in July. At the time I didn't realise it was Tammy's new novel as it was covered in brown paper and said 'do not open until Christmas' in the top right hand corner. Tammy was there and when she saw I had the mystery book she said it was her new one and teased me saying I couldn't open it until Christmas, and I didn't, until last week when she sent me a tweet to say 'open it now'.

Me and Tammy at Harrogate
It has been hard to resist unwrapping this novel as I loved The Mistress's Revenge by Tammy. So I sat down last Friday after work, tore off the brown paper and dived in. Four hours later I came up for air, feeling exhilarated after a great reading experience and slightly freaked out if I'm honest. 

Dying For Christmas contains a storyline that becomes more twisted with each turn of the page. There's no use turning to the last page to see what the ending is either, as it will be no help in unravelling this well constructed plot. This is a game of manipulation, control and abuse on many levels, that makes Gone Girl look like a beginners guide to gaslighting. The writing is subtle in places, more is left to your imagination than is whipped out on the page, making the impact of those scenes even more powerful as they draw you into the game. Dying For Christmas is a clever, shocking and compulsive page-turner that was well worth the wait. You'll never look at presents under the tree in the same light again.

Publisher synopsis:
I am missing. Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there’ll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out …

But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?

Published by Black Swan

This post originally featured a completion to win copies of Dying For Christmas by Tammy Cohen. The winners were @annecoates and @poppypeacockpen on Twitter, and Beady Janet on Google+. Thanks for entering and I hope you all enjoy Tammy's novel as much as I did.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

An intriguing delivery from Penguin

A few days ago I was contacted by Anna Ridley from Penguin who said to look out for an unusual package in the post. The package was too big to go through my letter box so I collected it yesterday. 

Here's what I saw first...

You're intrigued aren't you. I know I was, I couldn't wait to see what was inside the box and read the list on the crumpled and stained piece of paper.

The list sounds like it was made by a child. I loved collecting pine cones in the woods as a child. So I'm thinking child, isolated and in the woods, somewhere in Europe going by the Apfelkuchen on the list. Then I thought 'Where's the brother? Who is Becky? What does Omi refer to (gran?)? Missing mirrors implies a girl and she doesn't sound like a child from centuries ago, so the story is set in the last few decades. And why is paper burned around the edges? Then I turned the paper around...

... And found a musical score. La Campanella is based on an Italian folk song and is the final movement of the Violin Concerto No.2 in B Minor, Op. 7 by Italian composer and violinist Niccolò Paganini. It was also adapted by Hungarian composer Franz List as a piano solo that required great dexterity from a pianist in order to play it. The edition here is dedicated to the self-taught genius Leopald Godowsky by Ferruccio Busoni. So now we have a child, isolated in the woods and someone with an innate interest in music.

Underneath the sheet music was the novel that inspired this intriguing package. The cover features a white chalk drawing on a black background, both childlike and haunting, an image stripped back to the essentials.

'Long ago,' he said, 'there was a family who lived in die Hütte. They survived off the land and no one ever told them what to do'...

And then underneath the novel there was a battered candle, an unusual key...

... and a miniature compass.

Finally, I opened the cover...

I cannot wait to find out who Peggy is and what happened to her, can you?
Where's her mother? Why was her father so paranoid? What happened to her brother? How did nine years isolated in a forest affect her? What impact did a piano that can make music but no sound have on her? How did Peggy return to the family home? How was her reappearance received? Where is her father now and why did he lie to her? And why is the sheet of music in the box the book came in burned at the edges? 

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is due to be published by Fig Tree/Penguin on 26 February 2015. I'll be reviewing this fascinating novel over Christmas.
Follow the author on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Review of The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull

The use of first person to express the thoughts and challenges that Adeliza Golding faces as a deaf and blind child in the 1880s hooked my attention from the start.

'I am born breech and nearly kill Mother.'

The language creates a sense of disconnection between Adeliza and those who care for her. While she is a much wanted baby, the afflictions Adeliza develops shortly after birth become too much for her mother, who retires to her bedroom. 

The scenes where Adeliza discovers the world around her purely through scent and touch are vividly drawn and evocative. Mascull encourages empathy for Adeliza's challenging condition the more others can't cope with the child's temper tantrums, which regularly occur out of sheer frustration. The nanny and the household staff have little patience with the child and Adeliza's father fears for her. Then there are the Visitors, whose shadowy presence is there every time Adeliza opens her sightless eyes. I've known who they were going to be ever since I read the synopsis during the cover reveal, and I was genuinely moved by how Mascull decided to interpret them within the novel.

Adeliza's father is a landowner and each year labourers join the farm to pick the hops. Curious about these strangers Adeliza is keen to meet them but has been told not to leave the house as they may feel awkward around her mannerisms. Then one day Adeliza has had enough and breaks free of the household. She is running wild when a hand reaches out to her, a gentle and patient hand that takes one of her own and gently begins to draw patterns on her palm. 

I'm not going to reveal anymore as I want you to discover Adeliza's world as she discovers ours. This wonderful novel explores the prejudices that the deaf and blind face, and how something that is unknown or unusual can lead to ignorance from others, sometimes from fear but often from a lack of patience to stop and listen. This is reflected through friendship, first love and the brutal horrors of the Boer war. The title of the novel is inspired, as everyone within it is a visitor in one way or another. 

Adeliza also has a special gift. As this pearl of a child shucks the shell that traps her in a world of darkness and silence, she learns to be the light in the dark for many others. The Visitors is a minimum three hanky read, a heart-warming story of friendship, hope, forgiveness and the joy to be found in letting go of whatever holds you back.

I won my copy of The Visitors in a Twitter competition run by Rebecca Mascull. Thank you Rebecca, I couldn't put your novel down once I'd started it!

Published by Hodder.

Follow the author on Twitter: @rebeccamascull

Review of A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A Brief History of Seven Killings imagines the circumstances leading up to and beyond

the attempted assassination of reggae singer Bob Marley in December 1976, two days before he was due to perform at the free Smile Jamaica concert in Kingston to ease political tensions in the lead up to the general election. Guns and drugs were being pumped into the country and life expectancy in the brutal Kingston ghettos was low. In an interview in the New York Times, James warns readers not to read the book as a literal history of the times because he is being a 'trickster', and indeed he is. James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1970 and grew up hearing about the rumours that surrounded the event he is writing about. A Brief History of Seven Killings is a remarkable feat of epic proportions, imagination and skill.

Marley is a mythical figure within these pages, someone who was seen to offer hope to the people before he was forced to leave Jamaica after the shooting. In this fictional account, Marley is caught between the Jamaican gang wars over the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP). For some characters, Marley achieves a God like status, which inevitably marks him out as a target to those who view his rising popularity as a threat. 

While Marley is the anchor for this tale, he is not the main focus. Marley is referred to as the Singer throughout to create a sense of distance, enabling the author to move the real focus of the novel to the story of Jamaica's political upheaval from the 70s through to the early 90s, as told from multiple perspectives of the people on the streets: from the drug dealers to the Dons who manoeuvre and manipulate to control the ghetto districts in Kingston (the vivid descriptions of life in the Eight Lanes ruled by Shotta Sherif reminded me of the movie Gangs of New York), to an American journalist who's sniffing around in search of the truth, to a young boy called Bam-Bam whose mind is distorted by drugs and the memory of his parents' violent demise, to mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, murderers, ghosts, the CIA and many, many others. There's a useful list of the cast of characters at the beginning of the novel which I recommend you read before you start. Real life figures, from politicians to rock stars, are also seamlessly blended into the narrative adding to the sense of authenticity. The more you read, the more you'll appreciate Bob Marley's lyrics and why he rapidly rose to prominence.

The depiction of violence throughout is vicious and sickening. There were times when I had to close the novel for a while because I couldn't take any more, but the exceptional writing always drew me back. The novel is packed with linguistic gymnastics as James switches effortlessly from Jamaican patois, which varies according to the district, to American dialects. Conversations have the sharp, quick fire banter of a Quentin Tarantino movie script and you'll need to pay attention to the convoluted subtext, as it's like reading a verbal game of cards where each gambler thinks he holds the best hand. At other times the writing has a poetic beauty and delivers a powerfully thoughtful punch. I was in awe of the many different writing techniques James embraced to ensure that each character's voice retained its individuality. One 'ghost' describes the scenes leading up to his murder in a stream of consciousness that ratchets up the tension until you, the reader, are left gasping for air just as he was as his lungs expired.

There's only one main female character, Nina Burgess, who continues to appear in different guises throughout the novel over the next few decades, as the drugs culture in Kingston moves to Miami and New York. Nina's story examines the oppression and danger of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially if you are a woman. There's an horrific scene where she's been picked up by the Kingston police for being out in a dodgy area after curfew. They offer to take her home and then miss the turning to her house. You can sense the tension in that car, hear the tyres gripping the road and smell the testosterone of anticipation leaking from the men as the beams of the headlights lead Nina away into the dark. You will feel sick with fear for her, but Nina's not a passive victim, she isn't going down without a fight.

Not every character is fully developed, some are just passing through, there to reflect on the grinding poverty, the drugs and gun culture that can drive some people over the edge into a pit of hopelessness where violence numbs the senses. The Dons create their own codes of behaviour which are as cruel and twisted as those who seek to suppress the downtrodden with the laws of the land, and those who have vested interests. 

Overall, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fascinating fictional interpretation of Jamaica's recent volatile history. The last line in the novel is like a bullet to the heart, as you appreciate just how much has to be given up in order to survive. But be warned, you'll need a strong stomach for the extreme violence, high tolerance for swearing in various dialects and a good memory to read this 669 page epic. If you have those three capabilities A Brief History of Seven Killings is well worth the investment of your time. 

You can read an extract from the novel here.

Marlon James has also selected soundtracks for the novel here.

Follow the author on Twitter: @MarlonJames5

Published by Oneworld publications

With thanks to Oneworld for the review copy, I was so impressed by James's evocative skill as a writer I bought The Book of Night Women.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Haunting by PL McIlroy

Her eyes snap open. Was she awake or still asleep? Her nights are so disturbed that sometimes she cannot tell, sometimes reality merges with a nightmare she would rather forget. Sitting up slowly she adjusts the pile of pillows behind her back, then leans against them to observe her surroundings. Her gaze flits from the comfortable armchair by the window to the bookshelves on the right, before falling on the blank screen of the TV in the far corner, which looms in the half light from the full moon filtering through the thin curtains of the studio flat. Nothing lurks inside the room, yet she still feels uneasy. 

Then she spots it, the red glow in the cassette recorder at the foot of her bed, a light that didn't exist in real life. She'd bought the machine to help her rest. The only way she could sleep at night was by drifting off to the sound of another's voice, the comforting tone of the meditation tape reminding her that she wasn't alone.

She waits.

Four, sharp, blackened claws appear above the top of the cassette enclosure, pushing it open, and a tiny, horned, blood-red form emerges, its long tail twitching. She'd been expecting this visitor for some time but she hadn't expected the Devil to be so small. Maybe his size was a reflection her sins? She didn't know, all she knew was that this would be the last visit. Watching the creature through half closed lids she suppresses the urge to laugh, as her devilish companion withdraws a wooden spear from the cassette deck with three sharp prongs on the end. Sometimes she despairs at the predictability of the unexpected. Only He would send the Devil armed with a Trident. 

She unconsciously rubs the two nubs of hard skin on her chest just above her heart as she waits for the creature to make its next move. The Devil's tiny hooves barely leave an indentation as he clambers up the length of her quilt covered limbs, until he arrives, legs akimbo, on her chest, his arrogant little face burning with rage. 

Looking down at her miniature tormentor from a protective cloud of pillows, she is reminded of Him again, the man she had once loved. She used to wonder what she had done to deserve such loathing, why nothing she did or said was good enough. It had almost taken her too long to accept that there was nothing she could do to make Him love her, that something beyond her had poisoned His mind.

The fiery creature begins to mutter familiar curses and she finds herself tuning out. The steady rise and fall of her chest rejecting the blows as the little Devil tries to pierce the scars above her heart with the spear again and again, just as He had with the meat fork, but to no avail. The harder he tries the whiter her scars glow, until they shimmer with a purity that pierces and the creature is forced to turn away, his red skin peeling back to reveal the dark, empty, shell beneath. It saddened her to see such potential die, just as it had before, but she was impervious now, didn't He know that? Nothing would ever hurt her again. Not even the horrors of the past that haunted her dreams.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Review of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is the perfect companion novel to Joyce's first novel - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. 

In the first novel, as Harold walks hundreds of miles to see Queenie before she dies, he encounters the kindness of strangers and gradually realises that many painful secrets lie behind the facades of the people he meets, secrets that have held them back from truly living their lives. Harold comes to terms with the secrets in his own past the nearer he comes to Queenie and is able to find happiness once more.

Queenie's journey is similar, except that she is coming to terms with the unrequited love she felt for Harold and the heartbreak of taking on a responsibility that didn't belong to her. Queenie is tormented by the idea that she has failed the one person she loves. This beautifully nuanced novel is all about letting go of the misplaced guilt that can haunt you to your grave in order to leave the world peacefully.  

As Harold walks, Queenie decides to write down her memories of him, starting with the first moment they met over twenty years ago. Her voice is direct and lively, masking a more sensitive soul. Queenie has not encountered much kindness until she meets Harold and becomes fascinated by his gentle, old fashioned charm. Then circumstances beyond Queenie's control throw them together on a daily basis, which leads to her becoming more involved in Harold's family life than she anticipated.

Moments of raw emotional pain from the past are balanced against comical scenes in Queenie's hospice, which is full of believable and engaging characters. When you read a Rachel Joyce novel you are in safe hands, for she is a truly exceptional writer whose simple perceptive prose resonates on a much deeper level. The gentle grace of Joyce's writing provoked a powerful sense of empathy in me. I wept for Queenie, for the guilt she carried and the touching ending to her life. This is a beautiful, beautiful novel, I hope it touches your heart as much as it did mine.

With thanks to Alison Barrow for the review copy.
Published by Doubleday
Twitter: @QueenieHennessy #QueenieHennessy 
Find out more about the author Rachel Joyce

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Review of The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

It was impossible to put Mayfield's memoir down once I'd started it. In 1959, Mayfield's father decided to move his family to a small town called Jubilee in rural Kentucky and become an undertaker. 

Mayfield's dad is full of teasing wit and charm yet there's a sense of him keeping everyone at arm's length. Determined to know her father better, Mayfield expresses interest in learning more about his job as an undertaker, regularly asking questions despite often feeling repelled by the processes involved. She's endlessly fascinated by her father's ability to switch on his professional persona seconds after receiving a call, no matter what he had been doing beforehand; whether gambling with friends, having a disagreement with his wife or simply enjoying time with his family.

The memoir is brimming with memorable characters; from the independent Miss Agnes who has a gift for marketing, to Belle the family's help. Mayfield's insatiable curiosity about other lives leads her to question racial discrimination and to challenge convention when she falls in love for the first time. Meanwhile, Mayfield's older sister has issues that the family hasn't addressed, her father has secrets and her mother has to make some hard choices to keep the family together. 

I loved the rhythm of the language which evoked the scents, sights and sounds of the time. The history of each life and death is is explored with care, and each chapter ends on a thought-provoking note. The Undertaker's Daughter is a beautiful memoir. At times it is tender, poignant and often humorous, and at others there's a genuine sense of danger and uncertainty. There are many life lessons to be learned in this funeral home, where compassion and kindness marks the end of each life.

Published by Gallery Books
With thanks for the review copy
Find out more about the author here.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Is Jane Eyre passive or strong?

I've just watched The Secret Life of Books, BBC4, on iPlayer. The topic was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and whether or not your perception of a classic novel will change when reading a childhood favourite again as an adult. The reviewer on the show initially interpreted Jane's character as weak. We discussed Jane Eyre at my book club last week, while we were reviewing Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I've always said that anyone who believes Jane Eyre is a passive, drippy romantic who swoons at Rochester's every word may want to rethink that perception.


I've known since I was nine that Jane was fighting to be treated as an equal throughout the novel, it's one of the reasons I wanted the book so badly. I entered a challenge at school on the agreement that I'd be given my own copy by my then step-dad if I passed (see photo above).

The one thing Jane isn't is passive. Jane stands up to her cruel aunt as a child after being bullied by her cousin. She learns the rules of the game to survive the correctional facility known as Lowood School after her first friend, Helen, dies. As a young adult, Jane successfully applies for the position of Governess and leaves the school for the first time. That alone was a courageous thing for a young woman to do, especially for one who feels she's all alone in the world.

When the wealthy, reserved Rochester meets Jane, he knows he's met his intellectual equal. This is a problem because of the perception of class and status in society in the 1800s. Jane knows 'society' perceives Blanche Ingram as the right match for Rochester, and he knows he'll be bored to death if he does marry Blanche. Plus there is the little problem of his first wife that no one knows about, who's locked up in the attic due to her mental health issues. 

Rochester eventually proposes to Jane, and even then she asks him if he's marrying her for the right reasons, because she knows how strong they'll have to be as a couple to go against the rules of society. He is, he just neglects to mention that he's not actually free to marry her. The wedding day arrives, the wife in the attic is unveiled and Jane refuses the alternative position of mistress. 

Jane bolts and suffers a breakdown, which is perfectly understandable considering the size of Rochester's lie and the fact that this was the first time since her friendship with Helen that she's ever felt loved. Jane grieves, recovers and turns down the world's least romantic proposal from her rescuer, the ever practical St.John Rivers, who thinks she'd make a great missionary's wife (a respectable position in society which many girls would have given their right arm for. Security and status people, it counted for a lot in those days). 

Then Jane receives an unexpected windfall and returns to Rochester on her own terms. But he is no longer a man of great fortune with a big house. Rochester has been blinded in a fire caused by his now deceased first wife and his fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Does Jane bolt again? No, she marries him, not because he needs her but because she loves him, and she has come to terms with what has gone before from a place of understanding. Jane isn't passive, she's strong. 

It's worth catching the programme on iPlayer to see whether or not you agree with the passive or strong camp when it comes to assessing Jane's character. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Review of Here Are The Young Men by Rob Doyle

Here Are The Young Men by Rob Doyle is a riveting debut that gives voice to the dispossessed Irish male teenager. This is one of the most gripping stories I've read all year, as I was hurled into the frustrated mindset of  four young men: Matthew, Rez, Cocker and Kearney. Doyle has a cracking ear for dialect and the authenticity of each voice leaps off the page. 

This is powerful writing as Doyle explores the fears and hopes of these four teenagers who live in Dublin and have just finished the Leaving Certificate at school. Adult life holds no appeal to them. They're into drink, drugs and computer games, rather than finding work and settling down. They're also dealing with the complexities of romance and sexual desire. They're doing everything they can to avoid responsibility and are hitting the self-destruct button hard.

Doyle writes with a darkly comic sense of humour and a penetrative understanding of the teenage male psyche. His genius lies in exposing all four young men to the same toxic distractions and exploring the outcomes, which are entirely different in each case but brutally realistic. The novel poses questions about how far you can push the self-destruct button without losing an essential part of what it means to be human, and asks who has the power to decide your fate before ending with a mind-blowing conclusion.

Here Are The Young Men will put you through a wringer of emotions, it's an uncompromising and extraordinarily provocative debut. A must-read for fans of Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and 4.a.m. by Nina de la Mer.

Published by Bloomsbury on 25 September 2014.
With thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy.

Fine out more about Rob Doyle here.
Follow the author on twitter at @RobDoyle1