Fiction e-book and audiobook reviews: a teenage misfit, an Indian family, a memoir
The Wandering Pine
by P.O. Enquist
The Wandering Pine is, I confess, a bit of a cheat for a fiction round-up: it's a memoir by Swedish novelist and dramatist Per Olov Enquist. Nevertheless, it qualifies, in part thanks to its subtitle: Life as a Novel. We follow a character, called P.O. Enquist, who grows up in Hjoggböle, a rural town split between god-fearing folk like Enquist's widowed mother and plenty of godless ones, including Enquist, who favours sport, Flash Gordon and all manner of naughtiness in the outside lavatory. The divides in the town define Enquist, whose work veers between documentary and linguistic play, while the author tries to be a husband, father and international literary star. The linear middle section details his political activism, his world travelling and slow descent into alcoholism. The desperate final section, which describes repeated hits at the rock bottom, is both infuriating and compelling. Enquist is a fine writer, who is able to both explore his innermost self and hold himself back. It makes for a curious, intriguing memoir.
Don’t Let Him Know
by Sandip Roy
Don't Let Him Know is the debut novel by journalist and radio broadcaster Sandip Roy. Set in Calcutta and San Francisco, it tells the story of the Mitras who have almost as many secrets as the novel does pages. Roy restricts himself to two generations. In the present day is Amit Mitra, who is visited in San Francisco by his widowed mother, Romola, no stranger to America. Upon arrival, Amit presents his mother with a letter that, he believes, contains a life-changing secret. It does, but not in ways that Amit understands or Romola can articulate. Each word from the distant past strikes her with the force of a "sledgehammer". Roy veers off to explore the three characters' very different experiences in a form that is as close to short stories as a conventional novel. We reverse to explore the hidden life of Avinash, Amit's father, whose homosexuality would be the big reveal in most novels. Not this one, where secrets hide in enigmas and mysteries. Don't Let Him Know is elegantly written and eminently readable. A fine first book.
Alice and the Fly
by James Rice
(read by Scott Williams)
Hodder & Stoughton
The premise of Alice and the Fly is striking and strikingly familiar. Greg Hall is a disaffected teenage misfit who rubs everyone the wrong way, from fellow students to his despairing affluent parents. His inner life, as revealed first-hand to the reader in diary form, suggests a sensitive, misunderstood young man with imagination, individuality and some fair to profound mental problems. As so often in young adult - and indeed old adult - fiction, this isn't a problem so much as a narrative point of view. Greg fears a seemingly invented enemy he calls "Them" but others call "The Phobia". A more "positive" side of Greg's intensity is the love he feels for Alice, a fellow outsider who lives on the tough side of town known to most as the Pitt. The novel's alluring mystery lies in discovering who the enemies are, what traumatic events caused them to come into existence, and how these criss-crossing narratives resolve. Scott Williams is a perfect Greg, sounding young and confused yet also romantic. Rice hasn't re-invented the wheel, but he has given it an extremely good spin.