TRCH

Book Reviews: October - November 2013

11 October 13 words: LeftLion
Musical prodigy consumed with grief, an amnesiac in to a destroyed world, a man pregnant with the Messiah, and more...
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Possessed
Niki Valentine
£6.99, Sphere
This second spooky offering from the award-winning local author explores how the mind can become possessed by an idea, a perception of reality that becomes blurred at the edges until the differences between fact and fiction are no longer tangible. Emma, an insecure musical prodigy, joins The Conservatoire where she meets identical twins Sophie and Matilde. The twins introduce Emma to a whirlwind social life and she becomes close to Matilde, the gentler of the siblings. When Matilde commits suicide Emma is consumed by grief and becomes obsessed by the need to perform the complex Rachmaninoff Sonata in D minor to justify her place at The Conservatoire. As the pressure mounts, Emma’s mind begins to crumble and she begins to question her friendship with the surviving twin, Sophie. Clever use of mirrors, light and shadow add to the creeping sense of horror that gradually unfolds in this easy to read psychological thriller. Pam McIlroy
Niki Valentine website

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Marine: A Story in Eight Objects
Wayne
Burrows
Free, Nottingham Castle

“The oceans are a great swirl of changeable currents. In this element, where serendipity governs all, nothing can be guaranteed or truly possessed for more than an instant” writes Sir Henry Whitehorn, or rather Wayne Burrows, Nottingham’s most unreliable narrator. This gorgeous pamphlet takes eight random items displayed at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery and links them together through themes of circulation: wind, trade, blood and ocean currents. The resulting non-linear narrative is a kind of mini-Cloud Atlas, whereby genuine historical events – the deaths of King Kamehameha and Queen Kamámalu, the voyage of HMS Blonde to return their bodies – deceives us into believing the narrative that connects them together. Burrows reminds us that truth is relative and that all ‘facts’ are filtered through someone else’s perception - in the Castle’s case, through curation - thereby cleverly, and convincingly, justifying bullshitting as a celebration of the imagination. James Walker
Wayne Burrows website

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Industrial Revolution
R T Cutforth
£7.99, CreateSpace

Remember the Canadian In New Basford column we used to run in this magazine? Well, the writer of that classic LeftLion feature has been keeping himself busy over the last couple of years by penning this post-apocalyptic Manchester-based tale. Seth wakes up with amnesia to a city that has been destroyed and all around him there is a scramble to survive. Standard currency has changed from coins and notes to fresh food and WD40. The only person he has to turn to is a sadistic doctor who tortures him to try and glean some information about ‘the machine’. Oh, and the dictaphone recordings of a little girl who appears to be long lost. Eventually this mystery begins to unfold as he pieces his broken life back together. A strong debut novel, full of twists and turns. Since he left us, Cutforth seems to have progressed from writing like a Canuck Charlie Brooker to a young Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Long may his progress continue. Jared Wilson
Rob Cutforth website

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The Miracle
Adam Watts
£6.99, SP
Meet David Bloomfield: recovering alcoholic, born-again Christian and extremely unreliable narrator. Meet Reverend Lawson: a man of the cloth with a bit of a temper. Meet Jim Pinker: Machiavellian control freak and false prophet. Their struggle for wardship of the new Messiah – a twenty-first century Christ-child with whom David is pregnant – forms the narrative of Adam Watts’ devilishly satirical new novel. His debut, Mr Bloody Sunshine, got the LeftLion seal of approval and the same goes for The Miracle. Watts tackles religious hypocrisy and the church’s place in the modern world, but doesn’t settle for cheap shots at easy targets. At the core is a genuine debate on the nature of faith. On the downside, there are a few copyediting flubs but that’s a minor quibble for a novelist who, at his best, writes with the gnarly energy and acidic wit of an early Christopher Brookmyre. Neil Fulwood
Adam Watts website

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Famous Haunts
Angelica White

£1.84, SP
We all know how the genre cliché goes: a likeable character who doesn’t believe in ghosts arrives at a spooky setting. Next, scary stuff starts to happen until, finally, said character’s opinion changes and someone else from the plot says, “I told you so.” However, in Famous Haunts the norm is reversed. It’s the determined yet scatterbrained heroine Ellie who believes in ghosts, and everyone else who doesn’t. The novel sees Ellie starting a new job on a ghost-hunting reality TV show. She brings all of her ghoul-busting kit, as well as her can-do attitude, but, sadly, the show is run by a bunch of frauds. Attitudes may start to change, however, with the advent of some very creepy goings on. The plot is brilliantly-paced and Ellie’s hilarious inner monologue will have you rooting for her from the off. Go on, give it a ghost of a chance. Jack Croxall
Angelica White website

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The Templar Investigations (Books One and Two)
Richard Sandham

£7.99, FastPrint
These are intriguing occultist stories, frustratingly told. They have a great grasp of plot, introducing distinct characters and entertaining, occasionally chilling threats, whether vampire or human. The setting of English provincial cities helps exploit folk history and enclosed urban environments, making the supernatural believable, albeit that the animalistic brutality of the vampires in book one, and the sympathetic nature of the 'Revenant' in book two, a murder victim  seeking to avenge herself, is more impressive than the formal, stilted humans pursuing them. The main character, Mathias, is strong: his grief for his murdered father informs his fight and emotional journey. To get properly hooked on the story, though, one must overcome the narrative structure, which is highly flawed in grammar and focus. Edward Green
Fast Print website

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Musicolepsy
Jonathan Taylor
£9, Shoestring Press

Jonathan Taylor’s first poetry collection orbits the two planets of astronomy and classical music. He finds punctuation in the stars in !!**&@?? (sic), seeing "Saturn in parenthesis" and the gloriously unlikely exclamation mark displayed by the object designated UGC-9618. Monumental pieces of music are intelligently dissected to get at the heart of what makes them resonate so lastingly. In case odes to heavenly bodies or the music of Shostakovich don’t tickle your fancy, there are poems about sleepwalking, Marconi, and subjects to avoid at ante-natal classes as well. A slim volume, but Taylor’s absorbing passion for his subjects and his gift for communicating the warp and weft of the universe - and the way music entwines itself round your brain - make it rewarding. Besides, you have to love a collection with a piece entitled, You’re So Vain, I Bet You Think This Poem Is About You. Robin Lewis
Shoestring Press website

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Out of the Cave
Alistair Noon
£4.50, Calder Wood Press

From the opening titular poem of this all too brief collection to Footnotes, the book’s quietly profound closer. Noon, who has been a Berlin resident since the nineties, rewards us with many highlights on this quirky, sidewinding, inward- and outwardlooking journey. It’s a distinctly off-kilter journey, the kind you are unlikely to find in the latest Thomson’s Holiday Brochure – or most pamphlets for that matter. Noon’s skillfully written text presents remarkable and thought-provoking insights into the modern world and its (often inexplicable) inhabitants. This is not to say the book is a dark critique of contemporary experience; on the contrary, there is a lightness that glows with a sense of Eastern-inspired philosophy, as demonstrated in poems like The Science Page and The Sphinx in China. If this is any indication of his talents, I can only hope that he will venture Out of the Cave for much longer next time. Andrew ‘MulletProofPoet’ Graves
Calder Wood Press website

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Pelt
Sarah Jackson
£8.95, Bloodaxe Books

“Today, I find I can see through my eyelids.” Which is a good thing, as I need to read Jackson’s debut collection with my eyes shut, and I can’t put it down. Her poetry is  deliberately unheimlich (the opposite of what is familiar), it profoundly disturbs at the same time as it draws us in. We can hear The Ten O’Clock Horses coming down the street, we can feel the “devastating wind” in that deserted hotel in Bulgaria. We reach the end of the book and realise we have to ask ourselves the same terrifying (yet exciting) questions about ourselves and the world around us, which are not quite explicit in the poems but at the same time shout clearly in our minds. And then we start reading again. Nominated by readers for the Guardian First Book Award, this collection promises great things to come. Pippa Hennessy
Bloodaxe Books website

 

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