Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reading on holiday

I read the only novel I bought with me on holiday within one night - it was a sci-fi page turner, and it was sort-of-not-put-downable.   The title was A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas Sniegoski, an author I'd never heard of before.  It was all fairly improbable, with an angel living as a human being on earth as the main (detective) character, and several battles between various factions of the heavenly realm (God seemed to be a bit of a distant observer as far as I could tell) and some graphic paragraphs of violence that I could have done without.    

The angel character's wife, being human, has aged a good deal since he first married her (he's stayed the same, of course), so she spends most of the book in a hospice waiting to die of cancer.   Their love story is fairly well done, given the circumstances, and the novel moves along at a cracking pace (hence the quick read).    However, you'd have to be a real fan of this sort of thing to go for it often.   The dog was likable...especially since the Angel could converse with him (!)

So I picked up another book in Whitcoulls, in order to have something else to get into.    It's a Barbara Vine novel called The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, and to be honest, it's fairly peculiar.   (Vine is Ruth Rendell in her other persona.)    The copy I've got is published by Penguin and, at $12.99 is a good deal cheaper than most of the other novels available, which range around the $40 mark.   Hence, in part, the choice of it. 

This book concerns a successful male writer who dies of a heart attack fairly early on in the book.   He's shown himself to be an unsympathetic character from the beginning, and little in the later part of the book changes our view of him - although several other characters try hard to give us a different viewpoint.    

He has two grown daughters, who idolise him, and have done since childhood, helped by the fact that he basically acted as though he was their sole parent, cutting their mother increasingly out of the picture - even though she lived in the same house.   He's done everything for them.   

The mother began her marriage as a naive young woman who thought she was being courted for herself; eventually she came to realise the writer only married her in order to have the two children.   He and she live under the same roof, but share little more than occasional passing conversations.   

After the writer's death, however, we begin to learn some odd things about him: he wasn't who he said he was, for one thing.   It seems as though he took on someone else's name as a young man and created a new background for himself.    Finding out why he did this, and what his real background was, is the substance of the book. 

One of the daughters, Sarah, does a good deal of the detective work - mostly unwillingly - and alongside this we read about the information the mother has garnered over the years.  This information comes to us from a different quarter of the book, as it were;  the two areas remain mostly separate just as the two characters do. 

This isn't a murder mystery, as a Rendell book would have been - although there is a murder in the story's background.   It's a story of a man trying to work out his salvation on his own, and not succeeding.    In the process he almost destroys his wife, turns his daughters into arrogant snobs, and snubs his "friends."   Friends is a loose word in this context, as most of them are either syncophants or people who can't understand the abuse they're receiving.  

Sarah also has a very odd relationship with a young man which consists of them insulting each other in public to the dismay of their friends and then making made passionate love as soon as they're alone.    

I doubt that this is a book that would appeal to everyone; the writing is good (though occasionally I had to re-read paragraphs to actually understand who was saying what) and the switching between various characters and the constant adding of layers to the writer's personality is intriguing.   

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