Monthly Archives: September 2015

THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt

the little friend by donna tartt

It’s rare that I give up on a book – and in this instance, it may just be temporary – but a third of the way in, I am really not feeling this. My disengagement is not helped by a long passage about a dream involving Captain Scott and penguins. THE LITTLE FRIEND starts off promising and there’s more than a hint of the very topical Harper Lee going on here, but I have THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB waiting for me and I am afraid I am jumping ship….

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BURNT PAPER SKY by Gilly Macmillan

burnt paper sky by gilly macmillan

“There are some events and uncertainties that you take to the grave and they threaten to tumble you every single step if the way.”

Warning: do not read this book if you have any small children in your life about whom you worry lots, especially about them going missing.

Told through the eyes of his mother and a detective working on the case, BURNT PAPER SKY grabs you from page one. A young boy disappears from the woods prompting a week long hunt for him and his abductor. Rachel Jenner is a single parent, “used to some of the mechanics of being alone” but still bitter and hurting about being exchanged for a younger model ten months earlier.  As she struggles to come to terms with what has happened to 8 year old son Ben, every aspect of her life is under intense scrutiny: including from the media and those investigating his disappearance. She begins by relying heavily on her sister and her best friend for emotional and practical support but cracks in these relationships soon appear under the strain, with Rachel pushing them away and left to depend solely on herself.  She experiences some seriously dark and desperate moments – prompting a handful of beautiful passages of prose – and yet her urge to act, grasp at the slightest possibilities and listen to her instincts propel both the story and the hunt for Ben forward. She is both a force to be reckoned with and a woman broken by reading what’s written about her on the internet. A mother confronting her worst fears and a woman confronting a social backlash against how she’s supposed to behave in the circumstances.  The parallels with someone like Kate McCann are unavoidable.

Set against Rachel’s story is that of Detective Inspector Jim Clemo, haunted by the hunt for Ben and mistakes he feels he made during the investigation. Unable to sleep, riddled with guilt and angry about what the case has cost him, Jim is a man obsessed and broken. Much of his perspective is told by way of notes taken by the therapist brought in to determine if he still has a career after the case closes. Her commentary reminds us Jim is not always a reliable narrator, nor for that matter is Rachel, but I found this construct a bit frustrating at times: we are more removed from Jim, observing his battles, rather than feeling them as we do Rachel’s pain. As a result, I found his  some of his reactions and behaviour unconvincing and didn’t feel his breakdown was that realistic.

Nevertheless, this is moving and gripping book. It’s well told and, whilst the garden paths MacMillan takes you up are rather more linear than those laid by someone like Jo Nesbo, there are plenty of clever twists and exposed secrets that kept me guessing right up to the end. The intrusive presence of the press and social media is evoked well and brought an added element of interest to the story, as well as posing some insightful, and ultimately unresolved, questions. For a debut novel, BURNT PAPER SKY is impressive and I am looking forward to what comes next from this writer.

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LEAVING TIME by Jodi Picoult

leaving time by jodi picoult

This book really irritated me. I persevered with it because it includes some interesting chapters about elephant behaviour – not as odd as it sounds: two of the main protagonists used to run an elephant sanctuary – but the plot is weak and then at the climax you find out their daughter, who has been narrating much of the story, is a ghost. As are the two adults who have been helping her find her mother. It reminded me of the moment when the writers of the 80s soap opera Dallas decided the entire previous series had been a dream and rewound the clock.

I know Jodi Picoult isn’t exactly renowned for writing great literature but this is disappointing even by her standards.

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