Review: The Cook by Wayne Macauley

The CookI don’t want to work for a boss who props me up just above drowning I want to work for a customer who knows I am below them and who knows that I know. This is my shame it is a shame I want to be proud of. The money is elsewhere it’s always been elsewhere that is the truth of our lives someone else somewhere above is holding the string dangling it in front of our eyes do we jump like dogs for a treat and try to grab our little handful or do we flatten our ears say I’m your dog you’re my master give him shame out of every pore make him feel so big and special that he can’t help dropping something down for you. It’s not up to us to change them our job is to lick their boots kiss their arses let them make the money they’re the ones who know how to and let’s be thankful for what trickles down.

It’s been a long time since I read a novel I enjoyed as much as this one. The second I finished it I told the person next to me they should read it. Then all my friends. Then anybody who mint be unfortunate enough to ask me about books. Then people who went even foolish enough to that. Read it! Everybody read it! You have to read it too!

Zac, a 17-year-old young offender, is given a choice: prison, or a celebrity chef school. Zac sees a chance to make something of himself, to give himself up into the service of others, and to make himself great – whatever the cost.

There’s an enormous sense of foreboding running throughout the book. Zac’s narration ventriloquises an uneducated, obsessive young man – sentences run together, there is little in the way of grammar, and it’s peppered with slang and asides. You can see from the above quote that the voice is really distinctive. Some readers might find this hard to get on with, but after half a page I found I no longer thought about it. It draws you inexorably inside his head, you feel his desperation and his preoccupation, even as you can see (as Zac can’t) that it leads him to decisions and actions of great cruelty, both to himself and others.

Part of what makes this novel so gripping is that you’re not quite sure what you’re supposed to think you’re reading. Is this a satire on celebrity culture, as you see the TV chef who runs the schools as increasingly flawed in contrast to Zac’s dark, determined idealism? Is it a satire on the narrative perpetuated by these kind of shows, where ‘following your dreams’ and ‘wanting enough’ is the only yardstick by which other people seem to measure success? It it a lambasting of the haute cuisine world and the trend of ‘conceptual dining’ taken to extremes? Is it a story of self-destruction, as you see Zac lose himself further and further in his obsession to create perfect meals to impress ever-absent guests? And through it all, as he leaves a trail of butchered animal carcasses in his wake, you’re wondering, will anybody else will be destroyed by his quest for greatness?

Read it read it read it.

[Full disclosure: I freelance for the non-fiction arm of Quercus (the book’s UK publisher) which is how I got my mitts on a copy. However, this review has got nothing to do with them and I wouldn’t be raving about it if I didn’t mean it! ]

Rating: 
First line: (I don’t actually know because I lent this book out the SECOND I finished it.)
In a tweet: Masterchef’s dirty little secret.

Review: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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The Bigtree Alligator Wrestling Dynasty is in trouble. In the fading resort of Swamplandia!, the family is reeling from Hilola Bigtree’s death from cancer, and as the Chief’s debts mount up, the children each find their own ways to deal with their terror of the unknown and save the park that is their home. But Kiwi has gone to work for a rival theme park, Ossie has found a boyfriend who may or may not be a ghost, and the Chief has gone AWOL, so it’s down to plucky, 13-year-old Ava, her red alligator, and the mysterious Bird Man to enter the swamp and fix their family fortunes. But the swamps are treacherous, and not everything is as it seems…

Told from both Kiwi and Ava’s perspectives, this is a darkly innocent narration. I love Ava’s voice, her bravado and her bizarre frames of reference that only a girl who grew up in an alligator-wrestling theme park could come up with. Lines like: ‘I could feel the secret rolling between the four of us like an egg in a towel.’

Her grief about her mother is expertly woven into the consciousness of a girl who does not know how to express it, manifesting itself not in passages about how she misses her mother, but in nervous tics, a lack of assurance about what to believe, and a desperate search for affection when she meets the Bird Man.

The gator-swamp is an excellent, other-worldly setting that makes it impossible to know what we as readers can and can’t believe in. Perhaps ghosts are real, if they can create such a lasting impression on a family. Perhaps men can commune with animals, if the Bigtree legacy is to be believed. It reminded me of Life of Pi, the way that the line between magical realism and traumatic experience were blurred.

The story of Louis Thanksgiving, that one heartless reviewer on Goodreads who clearly likes her stories flat and dull and obvious from the outset, was brilliant. Like an orphan from a fairytale, Louis was only adopted to serve as cheap labour on a Florida farm. His background is so starved of love and opportunity that the Depression is, to him, a blessing.

Happiness could be felt as a pressure too, Louis realised, more hard-edged and solid than longing, even… in fact he’d been so poor in Iowa that he couldn’t settle on one concrete noun to wish for- a real father? A girl in town? A thousand acres? A single friend? In contrast, this new happiness had angles. Happiness like his was real; it had a jewel-cut shadow, and he could lose it.

And once you’ve followed Louis’ tragic, wasteful, pointless story to its conclusion, you’ve fallen a little bit in love with him too, just like Ossie. Whether or not he is a ‘real ghost’, you are brought face to face with the injustices of poverty, bad planning and a lack of accountability. That’s why we get the ‘unbelievable’ story of Kiwi going to Harvard, because he could never go – the system is rigged so that of course he could never go. It is a notion more fantastic than a 13-year-old alligator wrestler. In its own, dreamy, teenage way, Swamplandia! is as furious as a much more explicitly political book.

A lot of reviewers have criticised this book for being too dark (stupid), for not properly explaining one of the climaxes of the book (stupid, because everything in life comes with an explanation) and for stranding us with an implausibly happy ending. But if you try to pick out what is ‘plausible’ about this book you entirely miss the point – it is getting tangled up in this problem that makes the book so compelling. And I defy you not to care about these kids. I couldn’t put it down.

Rating:
First line: Our mother performed in starlight.
In a tweet: A dark, murky, terrifying tale of adolescence.

Is the Editor Dead? (Manchester Literature Festival)

I am back in my glorious home town of Manchester for some Family Time, and took the opportunity to catch a couple of events at the Manchester Literary Festival. First up: ‘Is the Editor Dead’: a panel discussion with Michael Schmidt (editorial director of Carcanet Press and PN Review), Lee Brackstone (Faber Creative Director), Peter Hartey (founder of Poetic Republic), John Mitchinson (co-founder of Unbound, the UK’s first crowd-funded publishing house).

It was an excellent line up, and everybody was extremely convincing on the importance of the editor. Lee Brackstone summed up the role of the editor as ‘adding value’. It was also interesting to hear him talk about how after a long career as an Editor, his latest job title has dropped the ‘Editorial’ aspect not because that ‘adding value’ aspect has gone from the job, but because he sees its practice as so fundamentally different now to how it was when he started in the industry; editors now need to be more creative than ever in finding ways to engage readers.

John spoke of the role of editors as tastemakers and curators of books, rather than gatekeepers. I think that’s how most people perceive the archetypal editor, but he went on to elucidate some of the problems for that editor in today’s industry, where retailers detail what thy want and publishers try to make a square book fit these round holes. He described the dispiriting experience of working with an author only to find that WHSmith say ‘books about China don’t sell’ or something else depressingly general. As he rightly pointed out, this isn’t a model that encourages innovation, and his new start up/upstart Unbound aims to redress that balance, allowing readers to pay for books that they want tone written. There is still an editor, so there’s an element of curatorship, but the retailer is taking a back seat.

I hadn’t always been convinced by the concept of Unbound – to me it seems that you still have the problem that the author who is best at selling their proposal via various online media is the one who will do well, rather than an interesting proposition for a well-written bit of fiction. Unbound has a number of well-known personalities doing projects with them including Monty Python’s Terry Jones and Robert Llewellyn (Kryten off Red Dwarf) and I wonder whether the Unbound model needs that level of celebrity to encourage interaction from readers. Would they be as generous to somebody they’d never even heard of? Still, it’s definitely an interesting experiment, and lord knows the editor needs more of those.

Michael Schimdt was in danger of sounding a bit like the voice of the Old Guard when he attested that he would prefer to be edited by Virginia Woolf, sell only 80 copies a year in the first 3 years, but his book would be Ulysees, than be ‘Top of the Pops’ (oh yes I quote) for a couple of months. But he’s not wrong that the kind of trend-led publishing that at its most extreme has led to black and grey erotica all over Waterstones is anathema to innovation. Furthermore his point that publishers used to be smaller and more specialist meant that you were able to have diversity in literature even while you retained the model of an editor is almost exactly what Lee suggested in his way. There is space for specialism. If you wrote scifi, you’d go to one place, literary fiction another, women’s fiction another still, and in that way you weren’t sending out 93 manuscripts and basically waiting for a trend to hit.

It was only really Peter who proposed an alternative, very bravely putting his head above the parapet to argue that as people are increasingly moving online to discover what to read next (in part driven there by the homogeneity of contemporary publishing) the the algorithm, rather than the editor, is going to have a bigger part to play in matching reader interests with available writing. But of course, this isn’t a wholly democratic process, with those controlling the algorithms being able to control what gets recommended to whom. A request from the floor to expand on this process further didn’t really get to the bottom of how this process was open to abuse, but the various small-scale furores around amazon reviews and goodreads ratings are a flavour of it.

So is the editor dead? Despite essentially asking 4 editors, the jury still seemed to be out. Everybody was united on their desire for this notion of ‘curated content’, but the truth is that has already rather gone out of the publishing window. As John said, if you’re going to work for one of the Big 5 publishing houses, your job as an editor is essentially to find and make best sellers for retailers. I think the panel were right to suggest that this does create a space for somebody else, whether that’s online communities or smaller independent publishing houses, to come in and offer that curatorship, but so far there haven’t been many out-and-out success stories of this actually happening. In fact, given that these were all smaller(ish) publishers speaking, it would have been interesting to hear from an Editor at one of the Big 5, to see whether they feel ‘dead’ in that more commercial atmosphere. At the end of the evening, I definitely got the feeling that nobody wanted the editor to die…but nobody reassured me that it wasn’t on the cards. And in fact, it seems like this editorial death might be what the industry needs to revitalize itself in smaller, and more diverse forms.

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(I was going to work in a Lion King analogy with Mufasa as the editor that teaches our young Simba reader the skills he needs, but it takes his death to makes him realise the importance of Mufasa/the editor, then the self-serving 50 Shades phenomenon of Timon and Pumbaa come along and suggest that maybe books don’t need to be cared for and curated, but then he sees the error of his ways, but I ran out of time and energy, and that picture made me sad. Still, The Lion King as a publishing industry allegory. I think you’ll find it’s pretty powerful.)

SORRY

It’s been tumbleweed city over here at the moment, mostly due to a combination of flatmates moving, a lot of work on, and Borderlands 2 hitting the shelves (I am quite the renaissance lady). Shame, shame, shame on me.

Despite the best of new school year resolutions, September was a bit of a lost cause, but October will not suffer the same fate!

Anyway, I’m getting back on the book horse, but until then, console yourselves with this terrible cheesy author photo of Proust. Just because.

So you're nonchalant already!

 

Discovered via this Flavorwire article.

Mid-week Treat! Literary coffee mugs

So my flatmates have finally moved out after 2 years of happy cohabitation, taking apparently all their lovely crockery with them. Sad times! This seemed as good an excuse reason as any to invest in some new bits for the kitchen, and oh whoops what do you know I accidentally bought four of these:

Literary transport mugsI don’t know, I tend to roll my eyes at some of the Penguin cover merchandise you can get these days, and the temptation to emblazon yourself with hints at how intellectual and literary you are, but at the same time, I think I am going to love these a lot…Plus they have the ‘points of interest’ making it nominally more educational? Maybe?

I bought Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockinbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. So pretty much an A-level reading list. Which ones would you pick?

Review: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell SimMaxwell Sim is a man struggling. He’s the wrong side of 40, his wife has left him, he doesn’t understand his daughter, he’s estranged from his father, and he’s suffering from clinical depression that he tries desperately, but unsuccessfully to hide. In an effort to reconnect with the world, Maxwell takes up a job on a PR stunt, travelling across the country to promote ec0-friendly toothbrushes. Primed with his Prius and his strangely seductive SatNav, Emma, he embarks on his journey to Scotland. On the way, he tries to reconnect with various people from his past, only to find that things don’t go as he had planned.

As in most of Coe’s novels, Maxwell’s journey is interspersed with various other conveniently-appearing texts that cast the important events of his life in a new light. A personal essay by a holiday-romance-that-never-was, his father’s memoires, his ex-wife’s short stories, and, most disconcertingly, a documentary about the real-life Donald Crowhurst, all make him question the foundations of the life he has built for himself.

In What a Carve Up!, probably his most famous and definitely his greatest novel, Coe uses almost exactly the same techniques (an insanely lonely protagonist, an apparently insignificant moment in his past which radically alters the path of his life, a remote real-life figure – in this case Yuri Gagarin – and patterns of bizarre and sometimes upsetting connectivity) to make a scathing satire on Thatcher’s government, and the way that distant figures in government have indelible, tragic results on others’ lives. Here, Coe’s satire is directed at the banking culture – Maxwell’s father has a strange, intense infatuation with a trader in the 70s that ends with his father memorably accusing him of thinking himself ‘A cross between Leavis, Midas and Gandalf’ (haha) – but the satire falls a little short. Although the rickety nature of bad trades is cleverly illustrated with a complex, ultimately disastrous spread bet that Maxwell’s father is embroiled in, Coe doesn’t seem to have the same targeted, frustrated fury that makes What a Carve Up! so phenomenal. Instead, that becomes part of a wider circling around ideas about connection and isolation in the modern world, and also our ideas about what our lives should be – Maxwell’s narration takes us down plenty of dead ends  that trip up our own expectations that lives should be lived with the structure of a novel. It’s perhaps not as successful as What a Carve Up!, with meandering themes that are a nod to The Dwarves of Death (which I was much less enamoured with), but I don’t think these dead ends are to blame.

I’m always a bit suspicious of reviews that start by talking about other reviews, but I was amazed by how infurated this book made people. Reviewers have pointed to the slightly baffled commentary on modern technology – Maxwell’s unfamiliarity with text messaging etiquette, Facebook friends and mumsnet – but I think that’s a fairly convincing bafflement for a man in his 40s trying to grapple with the new technology, as are the slightly slower passages of Prius manuals and SatNav programming. One memorable review berated it for not being entertaining enough, but can you really spend 300 pages with a middle-aged man in the depths of desperate loneliness and have it convincingly be an action-packed laugh a minute? No. Don’t be an idiot.

Also, the ending has outraged so many people! ‘It’s too META’, they cry! ‘You aren’t the first person to invent postmodernism, Jonathan Coe!’ Since when did you have to be the first person to do something for it to be interesting? Without giving the game away, I thought it was a brilliant spanner in the works – I would challenge anybody who suggests it’s any less valid an ending than the one you were probably expecting, which while more familiar, are just as artificial. I was heartbroken – and in that reaction, you as a reader become the kind of connection with Maxwell that he’s been searching for.

Rating: 
First line: When I saw the Chinese woman and her daughter playing cards together at their restaurant table, the water and the lights of Sydney harbour shimmering behind them, it set me thinking about Stuart, and the reason he had to give up driving his car.
In a tweet: The terrible book reviewers of Maxwell Sim.

Review: NW by Zadie Smith

Didn't spot the bridge until the end of the book!NW takes a cross-section of a community in Willesden, North London, following the lives of four characters who grew up in the same run-down Caldwell estate. Leah and Natalie, childhood friends, have found their friendship strained by the different directions their lives have taken. Leah is content in her job and content in her marriage, except she secretly takes the pill to avoid the baby they both claim to want. Her narration is the most fractured and meandering, merging description and memory, thoughts and senses. In contrast, Natalie (originally Keisha) has thrown off her council-estate roots completely and reinvented herself as a lawyer living on the well-heeled outskirts of their community. But her transformation has left her with an identity crisis, as filling in her various roles as wife, mother and lawyer give her no clue to who Natalie (or Keisha) is. Felix is a young man with a new girlfriend, a pocketful of cash and the world at his feet. It’s the most inspiring and upbeat part of the novel (except we know that it’s not). And Nathan is, for most of them, the spectre of Caldwell – scarred, poverty stricken, and angry.

The narration reflects the consciousness of the characters themselves. It’s the free indirect speech of your A-levels, and then some (Mrs Dalloway is an obvious, and probably conscious, point of comparison). Chapter 37 recurs, out of order, because of its special significance for Leah. Natalie’s life is broken into 185 numbered segments that maybe smack a little of the creative writing class, but which I thought worked rather well. Smith’s writing is meant to evoke the bustle and jostle of London, and it is as dense, as crowded and sometimes as antagonising as London can be.

In fact, reading the novel I ended up with a Leah/Natalie split of my own. One side of me enjoyed the undoubtedly good and sometimes brilliant writing, the sheer joy of a novel that meanders rather than drives, sprawls rather than directs, and the pithy literary asides (‘People were not people but merely an effect of language. You could conjure them up and kill them in a sentence.’)

But the other side wondered whether there isn’t something missing. I’m not saying I wanted a moral of the story, but I did feel like it was a novel supposedly about class that wasn’t actually saying very much. For example, it wants to hate and satirize the middle classes, but while it manages a certain amount of self-aware eye-rolling, you don’t get the sense she really means it. Leah and her husband scoff at Natalie’s success, but they also crave it, and Natalie herself rolls her eyes at herself during one (stereo)typical brunch.

But the Thing that happens that knits the four characters together? That, that is reaffirming a whole load of stereotypes – those who seem to be scammers are, the scarred junkie commits the crime, a phone call to the police will sort it all out, the only victim of gang crime worth mourning is one whose making something of himself. Her Nathan section is the shortest and the one where the character is kept at the furthest remove, as though Smith herself has fallen victim to her middle class squeamishness and couldn’t quite bear the thought of spending too much time with him. But another part of me wonders whether she’s challenging us to look at how our prejudices work? We want to read books about working-class girl done good because it makes us feel more comfortable, as though we don’t hold the prejudices about the Nathans and the Shars that we undoubtedly do.

I don’t know. These aren’t demands that I would make of just any author, or most books. But they are ones that this book made me make! Like Zadie Smith, I had trouble wrapping this book up in a neat little parcel too. There are parts of exquisite craftsmanship next to some rather more difficult aspects (and a few editorial booboos – who carries around a bus ticket in London?). The infrastructure isn’t without its faults, but you can still have a great time. A bit like London…*

Other London-based metaphors for NW are gratefully received, nay, ENCOURAGED.

Rating: 
First line: The fat sun stalls by the phone masts.
In a tweet: A big job for a big city.

Review: Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson

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So having read Gone Girl, I thought I might have stumbled onto a whole new love of popular crime fiction. Brilliant, I cried to myself from the rainy little caravan I’ve been holed up in all week. I finally get Holiday Reading! I can finally finish an episode of Miss Marple! And buoyed up with all this enthusiasm, I dived into Before I Go to Sleep, whose cover with the creepy eye has been staring at me from every WH Smith kiosk for the last year, promising me an intelligent, deeply disturbing thriller. Plus now every other thriller writer is being touted as the new SJ Watson, so there must be something in it, I thought.

Nu-uh. Friends, you might pretend to agree with him, but the Emperor is parading around with no clothes on, and he’s reading one shitty novel.

Christine awakes every morning with no memory of the last 20 years, the house she wakes up in, or her husband Ben. All she has is her journal as a link through her days. But it seems as through Ben might be lying to her and her secretive doctor is also shaky on the facts. So who can she believe?

Great, right? Clever! Read the ‘Book Group Questions’ at the back and you think ‘Yes! This is a book with some THEMES!’ Memory: check. Identity: check. Sexual power and control: check. Writing our experiences: check.

But spectacularly, it doesn’t actually deliver any of these. The idea that you could have the very experiences that make you You taken away from you, manipulated and moulded, is a highly disturbing one. For the reader to have to trace the ‘real’ narrative through her diary each day is an exciting possibility. But this bloody woman (and it turns out she wanted to be a writer, conveniently, why does nobody ever run a successful plumbing business or work in data entry?) is writing her own personal journal – the lifeline to her identity – as though it were some kind of novel already. It doesn’t read like a journal in even the most basic way. There is no immediacy to the narration of her days. And for a crime novel, which hinges on the detail, there was a lot left unsolved or unattended to.

At the time of writing, I have no way of checking whether the ebook I downloaded was inadvertently an early draft that somebody uploaded by mistake. She remembers a party where she sees some guy called Keith whom she one kissed. When she comes to, she can still taste his saliva. A. Gross, that saliva is 27 years old. B. you weren’t even kissing him. A half decent copyedit would surely have picked that up? Many of the sentences are flabby and stupid for a novelist never mind a women trying to cram as much urgent information onto the page as possible before she loses it. How much of the following sentence was really necessary?

Instead, as if fearing that any movement at all might result in my limbs betraying me, I stood perfectly still in front of the mirror, every muscle in my body tensed.

If you answered ZERO, well done, I guess nobody stumbles across your secret amnesiac journal!

There are sealed envelopes and hidden photographs galore, which would be fine except so much she discovers is put down to some ill-defined impulse. Memories and flashbacks come to her fully formed, exactly like a flashback in a TV drama but nothing like memory is actually experienced.

A memory flashed through me, tearing me suddenly back into the past. Everything was slightly out of focus and had a haze around it, and the images were so bright I almost wanted to look away. I saw myself, walking through these same corridors…

AAARGH! You haven’t described a memory, you’ve described a flashback from a straight to TV memory trauma movie! In fact the only part that rings true is the diary her old doctor shows her from her most severe period of amnesia,where she could only retain a memory of a few seconds and repeatedly writes ‘I am awake for the first time’. Sadly, this is directly lifted from the real life case of Clive Wearing, and I saw that documentary where they read from his diary too.

It is this total disregard for how memory actually operates, despite being a book that hinges on it, that so deeply disappointed me in this novel. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read, for example. The end is predictable after a point, but you still want to get to it (NOTE: I slightly changed my assessment of this when i got to the end and found it was the worst and most unbelievable bit of this terrible improbable dirge of a thriller). But being a good idea poorly executed in some ways makes it worse. And it almost put me off me whole crime genre. For a book this mediocre to have had so many prizes thrown at it – how shit do the rest of them have to be?

One other thing. Why does she never, not once, SPOILER ALERT try not to fall asleep?

Rating:
In a tweet: You’ll wish YOU had terrible anterograde amnesia!

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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When everybody else is raving about a book I do love to prove them wrong, but sometimes that’s just not possible. This was a genuinely enjoyable, thoughtful thriller that kept you guessing right up to the end and was highly original in its execution.

I suppose these questions stormcloud over our marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

Nick Dunne awakes on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife has disappeared. He knows they haven’t been getting on. Her diary reveals that she was afraid of him. That he could be cruel. And Nick has secrets to hide. So what did happen to beautiful, amazing Amy?

The novel is beautifully paced and the voices of Nick and Amy are convincing and distinct. Extraneous details act as colour to their relationship and also excellent red herrings, and the narration chillingly paints a convincing picture of the very cruel, very legal things that two people in a relationship can do to one another (emotionally and psychologically, not in a 50 Shades way), before the mystery even occurs. But also, you end up rooting for some surprising people, for some surprising (and sometimes disturbing) reasons. Probably the best thing about it is the way we see two conflicting sides of the story, and knowing that we’re reading a crime novel, our efforts to figure out the twist, to see how or whether he did it, actually leaves us open to easy manipulation.

It’s impossible to discuss the book in too much detail without giving away the ending and the twists, which everybody bangs on so much you’d definitely feel short changed. However, I did feel that towards the end it got a bit too deus ex machina for my liking, especially when it had started off so insidious and domestic. But seasoned thriller readers are probably much happier with the old familiar improbable resolution, so I am willing to let that slide. And crucially, it didn’t get in the way of enjoying what was an excellent, chilling, intelligent read.

Rating:
In a tweet: Jonathan Franzen meets Donna Tartt. In a good way.

Review: Q by Evan Mandery

Q by Evan ManderyIf you could go back in time, would you save yourself from the greatest heartbreak of your life? This is the question that Q asks, in a whimsically postmodern fashion that mostly (mostly) manages to avoid quite straying into Zooey Deschanel territory.

I know I'm setting the movement back, but BAAAAARF.

Now, the first thing to remember is not to panic at the initial premise. Our unnamed narrator is a struggling writer (slightly worried this is thinly veiled metatext) whose own postmodern offering, Time’s Broken Arrow (UH OH) is moderately successful, and who has met the love of his life, the she-doesn’t-know-how-beautiful-she-is (ALERT! ALERT!), quixotically named (OH NO) Q (THIS IS NEXT TO “Z FOR ZOOEY” IN THE ALPHABET OF KOOK). However, it is definitely worth bearing with the fact that on paper this is a Pynchon-romcom mashup (in fact, it is one of those, but I can’t imagine that shifting many copies on the 3 for 2 table). Q is an organic gardener committed to the single organic farm that lives, almost magically protected, in the very centre of New York City. She is beautiful, kind, loving and generous – we seriously stop barely short of butterflies landing on her fingertips and birds singing along with her.

But just before their wedding, our narrator is visited by his future self, and told that they will suffer a terrible tragedy if he continues to marry Q. He believes him. And he commits an act of unforgivable sabotage on the most important relationship in his life. But then, one after the other, more future selves continue to visit him – marry someone else, divorce her, become a lawyer, get a dead-end job, etc. It becomes impossible to see how this could ever end well, but of course, you know our narrator will eventually be able to travel back in time, so perhaps it will never end at all…

Mandery has fun with the time travel stuff, but he also makes fun of its unscientificness – as a future self tries to illustrate the concept on a tablecloth, the waiter complains not about the state of the tablecloth, but his terrible grasp of the sequential fallacy. Because it’s not really about the mechanics of time travel at all. It’s not really even about Q, whose perfection and unflappable faith in her ridiculous rich-property-developer father (if you smell a PLOT DEVICE, you’re not wrong) makes her rather unbelievable. It’s about how you learn to live with your regrets, and the value that lends your moments of happiness.

But perhaps whether you’ll enjoy it boils down to whether you can grit your teeth and bear the following:

…in that apartment, where Q and I shared peanut brittle while watching Casablanca, and completed the Sunday crossword puzzle with jam-covered toothpicks, and made snow angels in a pile of sugar on the hardwood floor, and first made love…

That is your litmus test, right there. If you can cope with our narrator’s middle-class Brooklynite love affair with himself in New York city, then you will find yourself strangely moved by the things that follow.

Rating:
In a tweet: The Time Traveller’s Wife instagrammed.