Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Book Review - Familiar - J. Robert Lennon

Every once in a while you stumble across something new and exhilarating. It might be a new band, or new actress or, as in this case an author. J. Robert Lennon (an unforgettable surname if not a little distracting) is one such example. His writing, judging by this his seventh novel is near to remarkable. The story is too.
There's a crack in the windscreen. It runs from the lower left hand corner to a spot near the passenger side at eye level. The car is being driven by Elisa Macalester Brown. The car smells of dog. Elisa is married to Derek, has one son still alive, Sam, and one who died a decade or so ago. Her life is not a happy one. She and husband Derek no longer get along. Both of them are having affairs.

There's a crack in the windshield. The crack is gone as though it never was there. The car no longer smells of dog, it smells of new plastic and has aircon.; it is in fact another car, a different model entirely. Elisa is no longer slim and trim but plump and a little matronly. Life has changed in subtle but obvious ways. Her dead son still lives. Neither she nor Derek are having affairs. Life is as hunky dory, or so it seems, as a life could be. This is a story that would suit lovers of Memento.

It is fractured yet remains linear. It is not a thriller and yet is has the same itchy scalp feel. The narrative is taut and fraught. It is as much about parallel worlds as it is about psychosis as it is about family breakdown. The tension is like piano wire wrapped around your neck or like a drug you take which at first brings unbelievable pleasure, a hint of hallucinatory joy before it starts to decay as delightful dream drifts into nightmare.

Lennon writes with confidence drawing unraveling threads together before fraying the ends. The story portrays Elisa in clearly defined detail. Other characters are created fully formed with believable traits and mannerisms but it is Elisa, Liisa that is the mainstay, the key to all that happens, the rip in reality by which we witness that same reality spin away. The pacing is superb. Like a long distance runner Lennon keeps stretching the tension, jostling the story along and then, as we enter the final sixty pages pushes away from the pack and tightens control, pushes the story up by several notches until you the reader find themselves turning the pages with greater urgency. The finale is a schizophrenic orgy.  Not since Peter Ackroyd's brilliant thriller 'Hawksmoor' have I read anything so willfully psychotic.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog