Monthly Archives: September 2014

18138917

Review: Trouble, Non Pratt

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18138917-trouble

4/5

Hannah is a wild fifteen year old, who loves nothing more than drinking parties, socialising with her friends and not caring too much about school. Then she gets pregnant.

I hadn’t heard much about this book before Becky’s enthusiastic and passionate review here (http://tinyurl.com/krzzevq). I follow every one of her reviews, and she very rarely rates a book five stars…and certainly never reads a book in two days. This was one I had to see for myself…and I’m glad I did.

I was expecting some social lecture about the perils of pregnancy, and some moral lessons about underage sex (age of consent in the UK is sixteen), but there was little of that. In fact, the book isn’t really about Hannah’s pregnancy as much as it about the social changes it causes around her.

I won’t reveal the spoiler of who the father is (I did work it out fairly quickly though), and why Hannah doesn’t go to him is revealed over the course of the book and makes a major plot point.

This brings in the other main character: Aaron. Aaron is the new boy in school, emerging from some trauma he can’t deal with. He views the eddies and streams of friendships and enemies with an indifferent eye, new to all and in some ways immune.

But when Hannah needs a father, he volunteers himself to be branded as the dad. Why he does it links back to his trauma…which is another spoiler I can’t reveal.

The short punchy chapters alternate between Hannah and Aaron, and since they have very different narrative voices, it works very well. Hannah’s sister receives a pet rabbit called Fiver for instance: Aaron would have recognised the Watership Down reference, but Hannah thinks it’s how much it cost. Their outlooks and expectations were very different. No doubt that we were dealing with two different people at any point.

Minor characters were given lots of room and backstory as well. Neville, a pensioner Aaron visits, is a great character full of wit and wisdom, as is Hannah’s gran.

There were points when the plot veered into kitchen-sink soap opera, but they were isolated. Pratt does a great job of pulling at your heart and then tickling it with her emotive writing within a paragraph or two.

This is a book about the strength of family and the power of good friends; a book about finding out who those friends are and who you can count on when you need them.

In the end, it’s a happy and uplifting book, a potent and positive spin on a subject usually given a more dour treatment.

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15800595

Review: Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

 

4/5

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15800595-doctor-sleep

Dan Torrance, the child protagonist of King’s The Shining, is now an alcoholic drifter, chased by the ghosts of his childhood and trying to drown them in drink. When he gets off a bus to nowhere in New Hampshire, his life begins to change…

Including The Talisman – Black House books King wrote with Peter Straub and his Dark Tower series, King is actually an old hand at sequels. This one doesn’t disappoint: it’s full of warmth and humour and characteristic King touches and style.

About a quarter of the way through, I realised the plot is more of a Dean Koontz feel: Troubled man helps protect precocious tele-everything teen from very real psychic vampires, learning the redemptive power of family on the way. Not that’s a criticism at all, I just thought it was interesting.

Dan attends Alcoholics Anonymous, and one of the twelve steps is apologise to those you’ve hurt…and it seems like King wants to apologise to Dan Torrance for running him through the hell of The Shining. He wants to know that Dan’s life turned out all right in the end. It’s very much a story of redemption and returning sanity, a counterpoint to the damnation and slide into insanity that was The Shining.

And King’s own demons mirror the book: As a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser, he’s been at the bottom where Dan starts off. As a result Dan feels like a very intimate and personal portrait, a thin veil of King’s own fall and recovery.

As much as Dan realises he can’t escape the virtual demons in his head, so Abra – his teenage counterpart – can’t escape the real demons chasing after her: Wherever you go, there you are, they realise.

The climax felt a little rushed, but then as a book about redemption and healing, it was never really about who was going to win in the end. And, to be honest, it was pretty obvious from the start.

It’s been a while since King wrote anything as simple as splatter and gore, and the horror and the terror in this book are restrained and off-screen. No one loses a foot or does the Mashed Potato all over a giant eyeball for instance.

With such a strong young adult protagonist, it’s also a great young-adult book.

I haven’t read The Shining in a few years, and it didn’t feel as if I needed a refresher to read this. There would have been a few paragraphs that wouldn’t have made much sense, that was all.

If you haven’t read any King, this is a great place to start.

Double edges

On the street where I live, a solitary neighbour – let’s call him Paul – recently died. Paul was a nice guy, quiet, looked after his mother when she was terminally ill and looked after another old lady who lived across the road (We live on a street where most of our neighbours are retired and elderly. It’s one of the reasons I love it – no parties until 3am where we live).

Anyway, another neighbour told me that Paul was slowly drinking himself to death; and, as I said, he recently succeeded.

Being a writer is mostly a great time. You get to make up worlds and people who don’t exist and play with them, run them through the mill and see what they’re made of. But it’s a double-edged sword, like with our quiet neighbour Paul.

I can see him, sitting alone in his kitchen every night, staring at a bottle and the silent, silent walls and rooms around him. I can see him reaching for that bottle to try to drown out that silence, then having to do it more often. The absolute loneliness of his life, the spaces he couldn’t fill.

I could be wrong about Paul, of course; he could – and most likely did – have his own reasons for drinking until it killed him. But still the writer in me sees him sitting there, alone, every night and sees the empty tragedy of his life.

Here’s another example: My wife and I had a good friend who died in a light aircraft crash quite a few years ago. (Those things crash all the time, have you noticed?). As a writer, it’s all too easy to imagine her gripping the hand of the person beside her as the pilot loses control and the plane starts to shudder. And to see the rushing trees coming towards her through her eyes, see those last thoughts flash through her head.

And as easy as it to imagine how beautiful a starlight beach is at midnight, the sand rubbing your toes, the infinity of stars above you, that smell of open water and the mist from the surf prickling your skin, so it’s as easy to imagine how it feels to be trapped in a plane that’s being flown towards an already burning building, the Manhattan skyline unrolling beneath you at three hundred miles per hour.

I don’t get to pick and choose what Muse throws at me, and when she does, I feel the responsibility to share that empathy to lonely people like Paul…to tell the stories the way my imagination and experience of life sees them, both the happy stories and the sad: The beautiful beach and the burning building. Both edges of the sword, and both of them cut as deeply when I write.

I’m not complaining about that responsibility at all; in fact I enjoy it. I’ll always try and do the best job I can with the stories I write, because that’s the way I was raised – if a job’s worth doing, then do it well – and I take my writing very seriously, even when it’s just fun and games.

It wouldn’t be right otherwise.

One Last Job

It had been a while since I’d been in central London, but it never seemed to change; Houses of Parliament, endless commuters and even more endless tourists streaming from Westminster Tube and stopping to take out their phones and Tweet or Instagram where they were for the folks back home. I stopped for a few seconds too, content to let the crowd flow around me. I’ve got better at that since I retired. Once, long ago, I made the crowd. The eye the hurricane spun around, that was me. There was no way I could have stood here back then without crash barriers and a police presence to rival a presidents. That’s all behind me now, thank god. Very retired and enjoying it, thank you very much. I won’t be returning your call.

I had turned away from Big Ben and was walking south across Westminster Bridge when a black cab pulled from traffic and screeched up on to the kerb. Before I could move, three large men in unbuttoned suits dove from the back and bundled me inside and the car screamed away. I’m sure none of the thousand tourists on the bridge even managed to get a picture or even had time to react. Just a black cab in a city full of them.

I sat quiescent in the middle of the three goons, considering my options. The red light above the door lock cut them down to not-many; the screen between us and driver cut them down even more. I sat back and relaxed, resigned. So they’d found me, and in the space of a blink, I was back in their world again. My life had been a living hell of movement, of constant exposure and I’d vowed never to go back, and here I was, all over again, right in the middle of own little crowd. There was no point talking to these men; they would tell me nothing. Only the man they were taking me too would speak to me. I couldn’t do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride.

***

After twenty minutes of screwing with my sense of location – London does that to you without even trying – the cab pulled to a stop in a cemetery and the goons got out, pushing me between them. It wasn’t the first time I’d been herded like that, and none of the memories it raised were pleasant. They shepherded me forward between the headstones, then parted and stopped.

My focus dropped to the man sitting alone on a bench, watching distant London, fingers of skyscrapers scraping afternoon blue. I strode in front of him, breaking his eye contact with the horizon. He gestured at the empty space beside him, but I stood with my arms crossed, refusing to sit, and certainly refusing to break the silence.

He inhaled. “Been a long time, Jack.” His voice was exactly the same as it had been the last time we spoke, thirty long years ago.

I greeted him warmly. “Fuck off.”

“As humorous as ever, I see. That hasn’t mellowed.”

“What do you want, Will?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.

He had the grace to look down before he replied, and even before he finished the first word, I was shaking my head. “We need you back.”

I repeated my earlier expletive.

He nodded as though he expected nothing more. “Please sit anyway. It’s a great view.”

He looked to my left and said no more until I sat as far away from him as I could.

***

For ten minutes we sat there. I only moved when the bench began to bite into my butt cheeks. “How did you find me anyway?”

“Never really lost you, Jack. We’ve always had tabs on you.”

“Fuck you, Will. I’m retired. I earned it, goddamit.”

“I know. But the world moves on…then it cycles back. Don’t tell me you don’t miss it.”

“I don’t miss being mobbed. I don’t miss not being to walk down a street without people calling my name every two metres. I’m not a superhero, Will. I can’t do it.”

“There’s no one else quite like you, Jack. There never was.” He shrugged. “Maybe never will be. When you were out there, people wept, Jack. They wept. I was one of em for god’s sake. They loved you, Jack. And you walked away from them.”

His appeal had worked, as no doubt he knew it would and I struggled to find a reply. “That’s not me anymore, man. I’m sorry. I…I really am.” I stood up, and he nodded again as I did.

When he turned to face me, his eyes were bright and liquid and I looked away quickly at the darkening velvet of the London dusk. When he spoke again, his voice was thick with emotion. “We need you more than ever, Jack. The world needs its heroes.”

“I’m not a hero. Just a guy who –”

“Hey…hey. Never put yourself down like that, Jack. Never. You made a difference.” He cut me off so sharply I spun to face him again, unable to find a reply once more, my mouth trying to catch up with my brain.

He smiled. “I’ve got it all memorised you know. Your moves, your style. You were a god in the old days. That Grand Canyon thing…no one has ever done anything like that. Ever.

I sat down again, defeated. I would be going back, it seemed, for one more job. “Gods are always alone, Will.”

“We’re all with you, Jack. Every one of us is there with you. You’re never alone. You never were.”

London dissolved into blurs and melting lights.

Just one more job.

“Tell me what you want from me, Will.”

“Three concerts, three nights, three locations. I’m reforming the band.”