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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 12 April 2019

"In a Dark Wood" by Amanda Craig

The book opens as an unemployed actor watches his home being packed up my removal men: his wife has had an affair and left him, taking his two children. He is in the depths of depression, bitter and cruel. He rescues a book of fairy stories written and illustrated by his mother who committed suicide when he was six years old. These stories will take him (and his young son Cosmo) on a quest to America to discover his mother's family and the truth about why she killed herself.

It is remarkable in that it has an unlikeable narrator and protagonist. It's a tough gig to persuade the reader to empathise with such a character and during the first few chapters I was finding the story a little contrived. I thought the characters weren't 'normal' people (an actor, wife a writer, father a famous columnist, mother an illustrator, best friend a consultant psychotherapist) ; that there were too many one-liners showing wit but not character (though I later realised that they did show character); that the long extracts of fairy-story were a contrivance to push the tale along.

But I recognised that the plot was of the classic 'Three Act' structure:
  • the first quarter (first act) ends with a long fairy story and the narrator setting off on his quest; 
  • the second quarter (first half of the second act) ends almost exactly with a revelation about the narrator's substitute mother figure which sends him off on his quest to the US;; 
  • in the third quarter (second half of third act) the narrator starts to become excited and extravagant; it ends with him falling in love with his cousin; 
  • the fourth quarter (third act) resolves the issues; 
  • the dramatic tension rises and falls very carefully within each act.
What is perhaps more interesting is that the character development is also within this structure and that the very features I found difficult about the protagonist at the start, the features I felt needed developing, were the features that would be under attack. So I had developed some sort of empathy with the protagonist despite myself. Clever.
Some great lines:

  • "A biography in books, this is why some people scan your shelves, in the manner of a Roman seer gazing at the entrails." (C1)
  • "Packers were entombing our furniture, wadding it in transparent, silvery bubbles." (C1)
  • "They were all so hesitant, these Cinderellas of the mating game, it was difficult to see them as predatory." (C1)
  • "At the eleventh hour before the biological clock struck midnight it was not myself they wanted so much as any half-decent heterosexual husband." (C1)
  • "My first reaction when she left me was a kind of elation." (C1)
  • "If you've been with the same person for most of your adult life, you can't help feeling curious. All those girls you haven't slept with, the parties you haven't gone to, the offers you've turned down." (C1)
  • "Everyone who was still single came trailing a history of romantic disappointment." (C1)
  • "You're like all men, struck dumb by testosterone." (C2)
  • "Everyone needs a story, a part to play to avoid the realisation that life is without significance." (C2)
  • "If you read fairy-tales carefully, you'll notice they are mostly about people who aren't heroes. They don't have special powers, or gifts. Often they are despised as stupid. They are bullied, beaten up, robbed, starved. But they find they are stronger than their misfortunes." (C2)
  • "In my experience, it is always the most selfish and cold-hearted of people who become mawkish over felines. I suspect it is because they instinctively recognise a nature even more unpleasant than their own." (C7)
  • "Children are closer to lunatics or animals than human beings." (C7)
  • "The one freedom every journalist will passionately defend is freedom of speech, otherwise known as the freedom to be cruel about other people." (C9)
  • "The Frog Prince who knows he's really a frog, no matter how many times he's kissed." (C10)
  • "The asymmetry of nightmare." (C12)
  • "I would never get used to the way other people look out of children's faces, as though we ourselves are only peep-holes for the past." (C19)
  • "Like all small boys, he was a natural fascist, deeply impressed by uniforms and guns." (C21)
  • "I was alive as I had never been before. I could hear every tiny leaf as it rustled on the tree, the calls of birds, the creak of wood, the humming of the great steel fridge that contained all the canapes." (C22)
  • "Unfair, unfair, that's what children cry. It takes such a long time to comprehend that fairness never happens except by the most improbable chance, that you are almost always going to be disappointed." (C24)
  • "The rules of law are an adult response to an essentially unfair universe." (C 24)

A well-crafted book with an interesting choice of narrator and a clever plot.

April 2019; 276 pages

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