Simon Lelic’s first novel, Rupture, (see here) was such a breath of fresh air last year that when I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of his second, I could hardly wait to read it and for the publication date to get near. Would it be as innovative as his stunning debut, Rupture, or would it be a ‘difficult second novel’ ? I’m pleased to report that it’s rather good. While lacking its predecessor’s way of interleaving a good police procedural with striking first person statements from those involved, The Facility is instead a thriller, and it does have a style all of its own…
As the book opens a prisoner called Arthur is being interrogated in violent fashion immersing us in strong language, torture and crudity on the part of the questioners. Immediately you are aware that reading the book will require a degree of stamina to cope with it. Chapter two switches to a secret government establishment; the Governor, Graves, is showing the a minister from the home office around the as yet unoccupied building…
Jenkins jabs his chin towards the centrepiece of the quad: a fountain, depicting Neptune in a chariot behind three horses. ‘A touch extravagant, would you not say?”
‘It is hideous, I know. The whole building, really, is an architectural chimera. His Majesty, for one, would not approve. There’s Gothic here, Romanesque there, Palladian and Tudor in the outbuildings. None of it original, of course. Except for the staff quarters, which were built in the fifties.’
‘You got it working, though. You left the damp but fixed the fountain.’
‘It was no great expense, minister. We felt it would be beneficial. The sound of running water, a place for the men and women to gather. You understand, I’m sure.’
‘They are prisoners, Graves.’
‘They will be imprisoned, minister. It is perhaps not quite the same thing.
‘Guff,’ says Jenkins. ‘Of course it’s the same thing.’
The scene is set, we’re in the near future – King Charles would appear to be on the throne. The government du jour have put in place ‘The Unified Security Act’ which was designed for terrorists, but in practice let’s them do whatever they want to whomever they want. ‘Guantanamo UK’ as a newspaper headline says in the book. We’ve still one more thread to pick up – Arthur’s wife visits an investigative journalist, Tom, convinced her husband has been ‘disappeared’ wrongly by the police. They’re not telling, so Julia implores Tom to take up the case, and against his editor’s better judgement of it all being a conspiracy theory, he does.
The thriller then works out through these three voices – Arthur, the wrongly imprisoned man; Graves, the former prison Governor who is not happy being involved in this top-secret work; and Tom, searching for answers. It soon becomes clear that most of the inmates are sick, but that Arthur is not. Government doctors arrive talking of trials for a cure, Graves finds himself overruled, largely impotent to help and essentially trapped – ‘you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave’ as the Eagles sang in Hotel California. I found Graves the most interesting character by far as he comes to realise his own guilt at being part of this plan.
‘What if’ novels always have big questions at their heart. For all we know, we could already have a dormant ‘plague-hospital’ in a sparsely populated area of the country. The author shows some anger at the way people who have not been charged with anything can be treated; at homophobia and racism; political double-speak; and so on. For the most part, he doesn’t attempt to answer any of the questions, leaving them hanging, keeping you thinking about them. In this way he subverts the thriller genre with this pessimistic view of the near future. This is a bleak and unsettling book which I really enjoyed reading. Rupture was a ‘Whydunnit’; The Facility is a ‘What if’ – I wonder which question his third book will pose? (8/10)
Source: Own copy. Simon Lelic – The Facility (Picador, 2011) paperback, 368 pages.
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Fall Girl by Toni Jordan
Another second novel. But first a few words about its predecessor. Australian author Toni Jordan’s first novel Addition (which I reviewed here) was a quirky and witty romance, in which the main character Grace had a form of OCD which led to her counting everything and hero-worshiping Nikola Tesla. It was a super debut of intelligent chick-lit that made me laugh; it got a lot of attention too, being picked for the Richard & Judy bookclub back in 2008 in the UK. Now on to Fall Girl …
As always with second novels, the follow-up to a successful debut always has a lot to live up to. Fall Girl didn’t have the spark of genius in the counting that set Addition apart, but it does have strong lead characters that make it sizzle, and a lively plot full of little twists that made it a great page-turner.
Della is part of an amazing family of grifters – con-artists all. Now in her mid-twenties, she’s ready to start leading some cons, and she’s found a mark. Daniel Metcalf is a millionaire playboy with a charitable trust that funds scientific projects. They plan to play him for a good sum, with Della posing as an evolutionary biologist, searching for evidence of a species that is meant to have become extinct. It should have been easy, but the stakes get raised and the short-con becomes a long one – someone could be heading for a fall!
Anyone who’s seen any episodes of the BBC TV show Hustle will broadly know what to expect. Family members all have parts to play in the con to ensure everything appears totally hunky-dory. Everything is honed to give the expected result, but Della has never met anyone like Daniel before.
You couldn’t help but like Della and her family. They have you rooting for them right from the start – like the guys in Hustle, they only take from the rich and greedy – modern day Robin Hoods without the giving to the poor bit. In a book of this sort you’re also looking for some romance, and this has girl meets boy action with twists. Della and Daniel are a sparky pair of leads (ooh – do excuse that unintended pun), akin to Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant – their dialogue was great, and it was fun all the way. This book also managed to make me feel summery (if but briefly) in the depths of winter which is an added benefit. A light-hearted and definitely entertaining romance – I enjoyed i. (8/10)
Source: Review copy – thank you. Toni Jordan, Fall Girl (Sceptre, 2011) paperback, 240 pages.
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