Novels good and bad

Gothic thriller thrills

By Ralph McAllister

a monster callsA MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness is a stunning young adult gothic thriller about 15 year old Conor’s battling to cope with his mother dying of cancer, schoolyard bullying and nightmares which become all too real as the monster doesn’t just call, but stays.
The book won both the Carnegie and the Greenaway medals in 2012 and it is easy to see why. The charcoal drawings seem to grow out of each incident and are truly terrifying.

Author and illustrator have created a classic with this achingly moving story which had me weeping and weeping.

Disappointment however  from two of England’s best novelists.

Mitchell and Hensher  fail to excite

David MitchellI am a huge fan of David Mitchell but his latest THE BONE CLOCKS sinks under the weight of the author’s own brilliance.
The story is in six long parts (650 pages) and jumps from a 1980’s  runaway, 15 year old Holly who meets an old woman who asks for her help,and ends in 2043 when Holly is an old woman surviving after the apocalypse which has all but destroyed the world.

On the exceedingly long journey the story is taken up by a Brideshead type Cambridge student, a war correspondent in Irak,a pompous author who despises book festivals  (pace Martin Amis), and a philosopher god who is engaged in Lord of the Rings battles, which go on and on and on.

CLOUD ATLAS, THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZUIT and BLACK SWAN GREEN are three of my favourite novels of the last 20 years,hence you may understand some of my sadness at my less than enthusiastic response to Mitchell’s latest despite the superb individual scenes.

Philip Hensher is another who might be in search of a more ruthless editor. THE EMPEROR WALTZ is  large tome which jumps from the 3rd century Roman Empire to 1970’s gay London via 1920’s less than gay Weimar. Lots of fun from the the author of THE KING OF THE BADGER but finally,yet again, too long and curiously unengaging.

Jack ReacherLee Child is consistently good

Lee Child could never be accused of overwriting. His motto might be “if it ain’t broke,why fix it” and so with his latest PERSONAL you get Jack Reacher once again taking on the baddies, foiling assassination attempts in Paris and London, while giving readers the usual formulaic totally escapist mayhem.


Don’t open!

THE TRAIN TO PARIS by Sebastian Hampson, despite being the story of a young man falling in love with an older woman, in Paris, must rank as one of the worst books of the year.

Endless meetings in cafés whilst she bullies him interminably meant that for the first time in a while I did not finish a debut novel.