Just finished Steal You Away
, by Niccolo Ammaniti. I liked it rather despite itself. (If you just want a good story, his second book, I'm Not Afraid
, is a much more even read.)
It's a fascinating example of a well-written novel that drives a bus through much of the UK creative writing 'received wisdom'. It shows us what happens, for better or worse, when a writer doesn't follow the rules.
First, I was always told that three different plot/time lines were the maximum that was manageable. And, as a reader, I have found that to be the case. Here, Ammaniti has four main strands, plus a minor one, linked by location and time. I did find that difficult to get into, as each character had a lot of back story.
Also, with different plot lines, I was told: "You must establish, inside the first three sentences of a new section, what place and time your reader is in, and with which character..." Fortunately, Ammaniti establishes a strong sense of place for them all, but each chapter start requires slow reading.
His fifth strand is a minor character, who turns out to be a plot device. He decides to give her substantial background and 'character', probably for the best reasons, but this is misleading for the reader, who is disappointed when that character disappears after less than a third of the book. Just as the 'rules' for minor characters suggest they will be.
Ammaniti's taken on board the maxim that all characters should want something. His really
do. Even if it's only out of the very small town in which they find themselves. This makes it hard to find someone to actually like (something novels are supposed to have) – here the best are peculiar and the worst horrible – again it discourages reading on.
Purists might carp at his omniscient narrator/close 3rd person POV to individuals. I was conscious it wasn't totally consistent but it was clear enough.
BTW, there was one point where I laughed out loud. I think some other scenes might have had comic intent, but for me they worked less well. So he mixes genres, too.
The way in which all four main strands/characters knot together at the end – which is completely unexpected – is clever. The 'inciting event' is very close to the start, and the resolution is a bang-ending, really. I found the bit of updating at the very end the weakest part of all.
Overall, it made me think, which was worth it.
--I'm struggling with The Twyford Code
by Janice Hallett, finding it disappointing after her first, The Appeal
. (Sunday Times Crime book of 2021)
Hallett has come up with an unusual way to put novels together (no spoilers); and though it worked once, it did have the feel of a parlour word game. (Consequences
The technique palls rather in the second book and I can't help stopping and asking myself whether this is really YA or not. Somewhere between Enid Blyton and 39 Steps
. I also have to stop myself brooding over 'how the hell did she get this published – it's amazingly weak –– or is it really very tongue in cheek?'
I am confident, however, there is a massive twist to come... there must
--I was also disappointed in Dolphin Junction
by Mick Herron. Short stories, mainly featuring characters from two of his published series. IMHO, the stories have the feel of discarded chapters. Two struck me (again very much IMHO) as weak and several seemed needlessly complicated. Twice I had to re-read the last two pages to be clear as to exactly what was happening/who did what.
That said, there is a moment in a standalone story – just one
moment – that is as atmospheric and CREEPY as moments from Michelle Paver or Susan Hill, both of whom I admire greatly. Herron has not, to my knowledge, done this before. Pity the rest of the story isn't stronger – it's just a vehicle for this moment – but I enjoyed it.
--And a slim one I was pleased with:
How To Write A Novel In 6 Months: A published author's guide to writing a 50,000-word book in 24 weeks
by Emson, Thomas.
What this does is help the reader focus, get organised, stop staring out of the window
and actually put fingers to keys. For less than GBP5.00. (What it won't do, and makes no claims to, is describe how to put one word together with the following one. You're on your own with that.)
Emson is a conventionally published author of horror and fantasy – not my area, but hey! – though this one is self-published and is, I think, more aimed at the s-p author. He's obviously a very organised and determined writer, and although there was a lot I already knew, there were useful tips and prompts. His system clearly works for him.