3 from March 2011 – Handler – Reed – Fredericks

Adverbs by Daniel Handler – Lemony Snicket for Grown-ups

3 from March 2011 This author is best known as the writer of the fun Lemony Snicket series of novels for children.  I’ve read the first Lemony Snicket novel, and heard the audiobook narrated by Tim Curry, (I just love his voice!) and one day intend to read the rest of the series. The film, which combines the first three novels is immensely stylish and is a favourite at Gaskell Towers too.  In these books, Handler has a fabulous and quirky narrative style, telling the story of the three Baudelaire orphans who have a series of unfortunate events happen to them.

So after that preamble, you may be interested to hear that Handler has written some adult novels under his own name.  You would also expect some off-beat humour and full-on quirkiness and Adverbs doesn’t disappoint.

The novel is really a series of short stories, mostly linked, sharing characters and a timeline.  Each chapter is titled with an adverb, which occurs physically in the text or in character in that story, including: obviously, particularly, briefly, naturally and symbolically to name a few.  Do you know the parlour game Adverbs?  You have to act in the style of a particular adverb for the others to work out – well this book is a bit like that! One of my favourite characters, Helena first crops up in the story Particularly in which she ends up working for her husband’s ex, teaching in a school …

She and her husband needed to buy things pretty much on a regular basis. This teaching job did not pay a lot of money, because, let’s face it, nobody gives a flying fuck about education, but it was a temporary position. Helena had been told it would last until the money ran out. From Helena’s experience, she would say the money was going to run out in about nine days.
‘It’s a temporary position, like I told you,’ said Andrea,  who had said no such thing. ‘Pretty much what happens is, you facilitate the creative expression part. You’re a creative expression facilitator. Get it?’
Andrea was an ex-girlfriend of Helena’s husband, so she said ‘Get it?’ like one might say, ‘The same man has seen us both naked, and prefers you, bitch!’
‘Of course I get it,’ Helena said, but she sighed.Things like this had not happened to her in England. She could not explain the difference, perhaps it was because there wasn’t one. Certainly England had castles, but Helena had not lived in them, although memories of her British life had become more and more glamorous the longer she hung out at hideous places like this.

There’s a rich cast of characters who fall in and out of love, requited and unrequited, from a chivalric teenage crush to being immediately smitten with love at first sight. There are all kinds of  love too, from full-on romantic to platonic, and ghostly too.

Despite being called Adverbs, Handler doesn’t use many of them – I gather that using too many adverbs is considered bad form for proper authors – Elmore Leonard says, ‘Using adverbs is a mortal sin’ in his slim tome 10 Rules of WritingAdverbs is also a strange book that happens to be full of magpies literally – it is obsessed with these colourful birds and their kleptomaniac character they crop up throughout as a kind of birdy glue – and dangle sentences at you like wonderful shiny jewels:

Love can smack you like a seagull, and pour all over your feet like junk mail.

How fabulous is that!  Like all proper good metafiction, Handler partially narrates the story, and crops up as himself too. His narration is similarly knowing as that of his alter-ego Lemony Snicket, intimating that he knows what will really happen and he’s not letting on.  As he is so much an integral part of the novel perhaps, the female characters tend to dominate the rest, but they’re all interesting so that’s not a bad thing. It is also full of advice on life in general:

You have to be careful when you say what you like two weeks before your birthday. You say birds you’ll get birds. You say the new album by the Prowlers and you better not buy it yourself because it’ll be waiting for you in the bag from Zodiac records…

There was much I really liked about this book.  At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, it was a little like a box of chocolates – I liked some stories and characters far more than others.  However, the quirk factor was right for me, and the literary tricksiness was right up my street, so I will look out for more by this interesting chap.  (8/10)

Source: Own copy.  BUY from Amazon UK (affiliate link).

The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed

Shame about the cover, my proof copy had a colourful wraparound parchment over the plain cover with a collage of American bald eagles, stalactites and vampire’s fangs amongst the images portrayed.  Underneath the bland exterior of the published book is a rather good debut.

The story is narrated by a seventeen year old girl; we never learn her name, or how she got where she is, her story starts from the day she meets Gunther and takes a lift from him. Gunther is enigmatic, he doesn’t appear to do anything except drive around mid-America, an ageing hippy, or maybe more of a rocker type, but with a girlfriend in every state, and friends all over too.  He always has money and weed – we don’t know how he gets it – maybe he’s a dealer?.  He obviously has charisma – the girl is attracted from the off even though he’s old enough to be her father.  She fantasises that he’s a vampire, submitting to his icy stare and pointed bite.  Indeed like vampire and it’s food-provider, the pair seem to have developed a similar symbiotic relationship, apparent right from the start of the book…

He’s wondering where to drop me. And he can’t find a place. The world is too ugly, too plain. Every town is an empty blank. And the cities, well, they’re full. As long as Gunther’s acting like some weird detached dad, I’m his little girl. He says it’s a sad state of affairs when the apparent predator is the protector. I don’t understand what he gets all heavy about. We like it here with each other. I don’t want the world to close in, but if they do, surely they’ll see the innocence. Who said ‘All’s fair in love and war’? I hope that applies here. I don’t want him to give me up.

At times the girl seems old way beyond her years, so much so she tempts Gunther into bed.  Their relationship completely changes, but old girlfriends are calling. Gunther doesn’t want to hurt her, he didn’t really want to change their relationship from a paternal one to that of lovers, he leaves her behind at a friend’s house.  She wants to get back at him, but it goes badly wrong, and she has to become a young girl again.  Back on the road she still dreams of reaching New York though …

The girl has to grow up fast as life overtakes fantasy. Gunther as an older man could have been rather creepy, instead he was more of a catalyst. He means well for her, but he changes her life without changing himself – his influence being both benign and negligent. He’ll eventually drive off on the road again. She’ll no doubt be added to the list of his girlfriends in time.  This was an engaging debut with strong characters. (7.5/10)

Source: Own copy.  To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click here.

Farundell by L R Fredericks – A bit of Brideshead + sex & astral projection!

I was immediately drawn to the cover of this book, and indeed the blurb promises much too…

There’s an enigmatic book, an erotic obsession, magic both black and white, a ghost who’s not a ghost, a murder that’s not a murder, a treasure that’s not a treasure.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by that. The blurb also mentions Brideshead Revisited, and there are superficial similarities – the book is set in an ancestral pile and features an eccentric family into which an outsider is invited, but that’s where the parallels end really.  The mystery of it made me hope for something akin to Lindsay Clarke’s wonderful novel The Chymical Wedding which delves deep into alchemy and the hermetic tradition,  a book I must re-read soon – but it wasn’t as profound as that novel.  It was, however, an enjoyable debut, and I gather it is to be the first in a series featuring the characters within.

Let me tell you a little about the story… Set in 1924, Paul Asher is at a loss what to do after his wartime experiences, he is still somewhat shell-shocked and estranged from his father.  He accepts an invitation to Farundell from a friend to help the renowned Amazon explorer Percy Damory, now old and blind, to write his memoirs.  There he meets the eccentric Damory family – a rather Bohemian clan.  Of the Damory children, teenager Alice is the most interesting at the start. She is always curious and wants to be grown up.

Paul starts off well at the house – he feels at home.  Then one day he sees the family ghost and this will be the start of surreal experiences to come.  It turns out that several of the family regularly see Francis the ancestral ghost and have out of body experiences (they call it their ‘moon-bodies’) communing with him.  Then Percy’s grand-daughter Sylvie arrives down from London and Paul instantly and totally falls in passionate love.  Sylvie, gratifyingly for Paul, consents to fall totally in love lust. They can’t keep their relationship secret, indeed Sylvie’s parents and grandfather thoroughly approve, and there’s soon a lot of sex going on.  At the same time, Paul, having had his eyes opened to the ghost, begins to use his moon-body too.

Interspersed with this are Percy’s memories of his explorations and encounters in the jungle with fearful tribes and potent drugs and associated out of body experiences; the precocious Alice seeking answers; and a mysterious book that Paul becomes obsessed by – it is reputed to hold the secrets of the Farundell treasure that great-great-grandfather Francis had brought back to the estate. The ghost Francis isn’t telling though, he continues to play mind-games with them; all except Aunt Theo who has chosen not to use her moon-body – hinting of the dangers to come.

There’s a lot in this book, although at times it can be quite rambling and at the start all the family characters can be rather confusing.  There are a lot of different sub-plots going on which I haven’t mentioned above.  I did need respite from Paul and Sylvie’s rampant rutting though, so they were necessary after all! I did like the setting, the grand country house is very alluring with its secret passageways and wonderful views.  The grounds complete with huge lake, island, chapel and Greco/Egyptian temples, and not forgetting its own model village, feels like a theme park you need never leave.  The period is also potent; people are just starting to find themselves again after the Great War, and letting go one by one with abandon.

I couldn’t decide whether this book was wanting to be a family drama or a surreal fantasy.  I though it ended up trying to be both and not quite succeeding. There was much to like and I enjoyed it, but was left slightly disappointed. I would however, probably read more by this debut author. (6.5/10)

See what Simon at Savidge Reads thought here.

Source: Review copy – thank you.  BUY from Amazon UK (affiliate link).

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