Posted by: billpurdue | April 8, 2011

Here’s one I didn’t finish

Last time I was writing about starting a novel  and not managing to get to the end. How many times do you have that experience? Well, in my case, not very many, but I must confess that I have just given up on Nicola Barker’s Burley Cross Postbox Theft [Fourth Estate £18.99 978-0007355006]. It’s a pity, because I was looking forward to getting hold of a copy: when I first requested a copy from my local library, it took months to arrive and it was quite a disappointment. Nevertheless I persevered for quite a while, but I wasn’t enjoying it and I thought to myself “there are lots of other books I will enjoy more”.

As you will gather from the title, it’s about the investigation into the theft of several letters from a post box in the village of Burley Cross and it’s the inhabitants of the village and its environs that are the characters in the book – and what characters they are. The story is told in the form of letters : ie. an epistolary novel. The letters reveal a whole host of secrets, prejudices and pettiness, but it takes an age to get through some of these long rambling letters (complete with underlinings, exclamation marks in abundance and sometimes footnotes) , that the reader is likely to forget what the plot is about if (s)he stops reading at a vital point. Reviews of this book on Amazon are very mixed – from five stars to one. One reviewer sums it up very nicely, if  Mr D J Brindle doesn’t mind me quoting him: “this is a tale of a load of letters written by a bunch of objectionables that are normally the sort you’d try your very, very best to avoid reading. Whether you choose to avoid reading this book is up to you”

It’s also disappointing since Nicola Barker has won several awards and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize with one of her earlier novels Darkmans [Fourth Estate £9.99 978-0007193639] which I’ve now requested from the library.  So maybe I’m missing something here, but I’m certainly not alone!

This week saw the first episode of “The Crimson Petal and the White” on BBC2. This is certainly not your normal costume drama, dealing as it does with a well read prostitute named Sugar who is taken up by wealthy perfumer, William Rackham, whose wife is slowly going mad. It’s adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Faber [ Canongate £9.99 978-1847678935]. It’s not a pleasant story, but the book apparently is, according to the Guardian reviewer Kathryn Hughes, the novel that Dickens would have written, had he been allowed to speak freely. I somehow doubt it.  I have to say that it’s not my cup of tea, but if you enjoyed the first episode on the telly, then you might like the book too.

One book which I am hoping to get hold of in the near future is Started early, took my Dog by Kate Atkinson, which is no 17 in the official UK book charts as of last Saturday according to The Bookseller magazine. At first sight this appears to be another detective novel, but it seems that there’s much more to it than that: it features private eye Jason Brody, a cop-turned-security- guard, Tracy Waterhouse (who makes a “shocking” impulse purchase) and the almost-retired DS Barry Crawford. Then there are a few more intriguing characters plus the dog called The Ambassador. A “must read” I think. Oh and by the way, Jason Brodie is coming to BBC 1 soon – look out for “Case Histories”.

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