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2002 March

RevEdit 2002 03

Every so often in my reading career, I come across a book that is so good it puts pretty well everything else in the shade. Such a book is Ian McEwan's Atonement. On the Booker shortlist, it lost out to Peter Carey's The True History of the Kelly Gang, which I haven't read. But I have read Atonement, and it's the best novel I've read since Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

Apart from being a beautifully told story in itself, the novel raises questions about the nature of fiction. At first, the reader believes that McEwan is telling a straightforward story from several different points of view. But as one of the protagonists, Briony, is herself a writer, certain doubts begin to surface. In the end, it appears that the book is written entirely by Briony as a third-person narrator -- but is it true, as in 'truth within fiction'? Of course, none of it can be said to be true -- it's fiction. But within the framework of a novel, whom is the reader to believe? Wonderful stuff, greatly thought-provoking, and well written beyond superlatives.

Copyright 2002 Paul S. Jenkins

2002 February

I enjoy reading, but I have little time for it. Couple that with the fact that I read fairly slowly (about 10,000 words per hour, I once clocked) and you will realise why I need to be selective about what I read. Reading time is precious time, so I don't want to waste it. It gives me special pleasure, therefore, to find an author with whom I was not previously familiar, but whose work I find enjoyable.

For several years I have subscribed to The Third Alternative, a British independent magazine edited by Andy Cox, publishing short stories, book reviews, comment columns, articles on the cinema, and author interviews. When the editor announced that a subsequent issue would feature an interview with Muriel Gray, plus a story of hers, my reaction was, Why? She's a TV celebrity. I'd no idea she was a writer.

When issue 27 of TTA arrived, I opened it to find that it contained one of my own reviews (of Roger Levy's debut SF novel, Reckless Sleep). The first thing I read (after my own review, of course) was the interview with Muriel Gray, and in three pages I was completely won over. I've always thought (probably uncharitably) that Ms Gray was a loud, pushy, objectionable Scot who was far too fond of the sound of her own voice. But after reading David Mathew's heartfelt and oddly touching interview I found myself wanting to search out and read her three novels.

Which, after reading her distinctly disturbing TTA story, "Shite Hawks", I did. I took the first, The Trickster, with me on holiday to the Canadian Rockies. Coincidence or fate, call it what you will: Gray's first novel is set in a small town named Silver high up in the Canadian Rockies. It's an excellent book, in the Stephen King mould, with a great deal of violence and an enormous cast. Gray's characterisation is superb. Essentially it's the story of how an evil entity has resurfaced at a ski resort after many years, told from many different viewpoints, but mostly from that of a Native Canadian who has renounced his roots.

Being there, naturally I wanted to search out the locations, and anything I could find out about the indian tribe to which Gray's main protagonist belonged. As it turned out, all that I found was the pair of spiral railway tunnels that feature strongly in the book. No matter, I enjoyed the novel, finishing it after returning home.

On the TTA website are several message-boards for discussion of articles and stories appearing in the magazine, one board for each author. Ms Gray, therefore, has her own message-board, and it was there that I, as a reader, was able to ask her directly about the setting of her novel. She told me that the town of Silver is based on Banff, and that the tribe was made up, to avoid any possible litigation by members of an actual tribe who might take offence at their portrayal in the novel. I mention this not because it's important (it's not), but because it illustrates how the internet can bring authors and readers closer together. If I was an obsessional fan I would probably have addressed my queries to the publisher and maybe received a reply some months later, if at all. Muriel Gray replied, via her message-board, in a couple of days.

Since then I've read her second, Furnace, which is set in America, and is about a truck driver. Much shorter than her first (which was probably about 250,000 words), the action of Furnace takes place over about three days, is cleverly plotted, and -- like The Trickster -- involves something unspeakably evil.

I have Gray's third novel, The Ancient, in my 'to-read' pile. Look out for reviews of all three in forthcoming Rev-Up Review Pages.

Copyright 2002 Paul S. Jenkins

2001 January

Congratulations J K Rowling! You have reached the ultimate test of fame, the final recognition that you've arrived as a literary star. Your books have been banned.

It's hard to credit, but there are some authorities in America that maintain that the Harry Potter books are teaching children to worship the Devil. I'm sure Santa Claus would have something to say about that.

Come on folks, kids aren't stupid! Why do you suppose Harry Potter is so successful? Children world-wide are reading about Harry's adventures because they know they're not real. It's escapism they crave, and Rowling's stories set in an antiquated British public school, albeit a rather strange one, are popular precisely because they're unreal.

The children who read Harry Potter are no more going to grow up sacrificing babies than those reading the Narnia books will grow up thinking they can walk through wardrobes.

Rather than banning her books, be thankful to J K Rowling, who has single-handedly changed the reading habits of a generation.

Copyright 2002 Paul S. Jenkins

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