Book Review: The Absent Therapist

“because a thing is unseen doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In order to see it properly, you may find you need to look away. Some things do not like to be observed too directly. Staring fixes them and creates a blind spot.”

The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves, is a book of vignettes arranged into five sections. The voices are various and rarely explained other than to provide necessary context. Written in the first person, they come across as thoughts and personal opinions. Some may appear shocking to more sheltered readers. Mostly they highlight situations the author may or may not have encountered, that he then runs with for effect. A superficial read may raise questions as to what is being conveyed – the intention in writing the piece. Somehow, though, the stories linger. They are clever – perhaps too clever at times for me to fully appreciate.

“Thinking is the set of mental processes we don’t understand. It is the soul in conference with itself.”

Many of the entries cover encounters with people – friends, colleagues, love interests. They highlight aspects of character that may concern the narrator along with recollections from memory that, with hindsight, shaped them. Settings vary across continents although Australia features regularly. A recurring theme is musings on AI and how it is unhelpful to anthropomorphise machine intelligence.

Certain entries go back to ancient times but mostly they offer thoughts on more contemporary, day to day situations. The narrators have varying careers, including that of a writer.

“‘I could have done that’, people cry, especially relatives. ‘You’ve taken my story and written it down verbatim. How dare you?’ To them I say: ‘Well, you weren’t doing anything with it. You didn’t see that it was a story worth telling.”

I enjoyed the final section the most and wonder if it took me this long to find the author’s cadence. Throughout the book I was questioning how much of the deeper aspects I was getting.

“What draws everyone on is knowing that we’re denied objectivity by the limits of our perception while simultaneously denying that we are denied it”

I wouldn’t wish you to think I did not enjoy what I was reading. It is more that I felt unable to fully grasp all that could be gleaned from the shadows cast by the author’s carefully crafted words.

A book that will doubtless offer more on subsequent read throughs. An intriguing and intelligent glimpse at facets of lives recognisable, here offered careful and perspicacious consideration.

The Absent Therapist is published by CB editions.

Book Review: The Stone Diaries

The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields, tells the story of Daisy Goodwin, a woman born in Canada during the first decade of the twentieth century and who lived into her nineties. It enables the reader to look at how life changed, particularly for women, during this period.

Daisy’s long life is ordinary if privileged – she enjoyed material comforts but achieved no fame or greatness. The author has written that she started out with the idea of creating a subversion of a family saga but ended up exploring autobiography – questioning if anyone can know the story of their own lives or if it is a narrative borrowed from impressions other people have of them.

“Each day as I sat down to write, I conjured up an image of a series of nesting boxes. I was making the outside box, Daisy was making the inside box – and inside her box was nothing. She was thinking – not writing – her own life story, but it was a life from which she, the subject, had been subtracted. This was the truth, I felt at that time, of most women’s lives.”

The book follows a more or less linear structure but includes recollections. Chapters are given titles such as Birth, Childhood, Marriage, Motherhood. It appears to be Daisy telling her story but with regular contributions from others – friends, family, neighbours. One chapter is entirely epistolary.

A family tree is included at the beginning so the reader is aware of what may be regarded as Daisy’s key life events from the off – births, deaths, marriages, divorces. Her story, though, does not focus on such milestones. With each chapter jumping forward in time a decade or more, they are mentioned in passing. Daisy’s children, in particular, may have considered themselves of vital importance in her life but they were merely one aspect of what shaped her trajectory.

It is interesting to consider how much of what happens in a life is choice and how much a reaction – coping as best one can with the unanticipated, particularly with regard to others. Women have children with no true idea how this will impact on their time and personality. Children live with their parents for, perhaps, a couple of decades before moving on with their own lives. Parents have a before and after that also shapes what they are and become. Partners do not always offer support or even stick around. Friends have their own concerns to deal with and understand only fragments.

“Why should men be allowed to strut under the privilege of their life adventures, wearing them like a breastful of medals, while women went all gray and silent beneath the weight of theirs?”

Daisy’s father worked as a stone cutter in a quarry – hard manual labour but requiring learned skills. Her mother died in childbirth so, as a young child, Daisy was cared for by others. She reconnects with her father and moves to America. Here she finds friends, attends college, meets her first husband. Although coloured by what some may regard as tragedy, Daisy’s early life is one of compliance more than unhappiness.

Daisy develops strong attachments but much of what she goes through – throughout her long life – is not the result of any long term planning. Her ambitions are vague and she appears content to do what is expected, making the best of the situations this leads to. Her second marriage comes about due to a rare action on her part but even this is not acknowledged – at least in the thoughts provided – as a fully formed objective.

At the end of Daisy’s life the focus shifts to how her children deal with a slowly dying parent and then the aftermath, when they come to realise how little they actually knew their mother. It is a reminder of how self-focused even close relationships are.

The strength of the story is in the author’s ability to take what is an ordinary life and inject it with enough interest and tension to maintain reader engagement. The characters may be glimpsed in snapshots but are fully three-dimensional, their concerns and conceits relatable.

Carol Shields is a powerful writer yet her stories flow apparently effortlessly. I have no doubt the themes explored in The Stone Diaries will continue to resonate with me for some time to come. A tale to enjoy and then ponder. Family relationships and friendships laid bare yet offered with love.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, World Editions.

Book Review: Beastings

Beastings, by Benjamin Myers, is a raw and shocking tale set in the wilds of the English Lake District. The author’s prose retains its signature poetic quality but is used here to flay any notions of easy tranquility when up against nature. Characters are depicted as elemental – brutal in their determination to protect the way they live.

A teenage girl, raised by nuns in a pitiless workhouse, takes her employers’ baby and flees their home in Cumberland. She plans to cross the fells in hope of reaching the sea. The girl seeks a life away from people. Her existence to date has been one of endless abuse. She wishes to offer the child a chance of a better life than she has had to accept.

When the abduction is discovered the baby’s father turns to the town priest for help. It was the church that placed the girl in his home to help with chores his wife’s sickness prevents her from completing. The priest has personal reasons to wish the girl be found and returned to the church’s care.

The priest employs the services of a poacher and his dog to track the absconders. The poacher has heard rumours of the priest’s proclivities but has reasons of his own for helping a man with such influence. He does not expect it to take long to catch up with a young girl considered ‘a dummy’ and lacking provisions.

The story told is of the chase. Narrative switches between: the girl, those she meets, the poacher and priest. Journeying across high ground in order to avoid locals and tourists – who may have been alerted to the taking of a baby – the travellers encounter few people other than men hardened to survival in a lonely and rugged terrain.

The priest is a monstrous creation – the church at its worst. He is contemptuous of his congregation and believes he deserves the rewards he grants himself for ‘doing God’s work’. As he and the poacher traverse the fells, their conversation reveals details of the life he leads. When faced with those who will not bend to his will he responds with cold brutality.

As days pass, the girl struggles to find food for herself and the baby. She knows that she will be hunted and must keep moving if she is to succeed in getting away. Gradually, her backstory is revealed and the reader comes to understand the extent of the suffering she has faced – why she is so determined to escape. She is just one of many taken in by the church as an act of charity, used and then punished for the sin of existing.

In an era before mass tourism, the locals eke out their livings against a landscape of fearsome beauty but hard won takings. There is a poverty of expectation in communities where choice is limited by economics and location.

“I do believe killing is bad.
The Priest raised his head from the fire and looked at him.
Yet you kill animals every day.
That’s different.
[…]
They’re just animals.
And humans aren’t?
[…]
Some of them are pests Father.
So are some humans.”

This story is not for the faint-hearted. It is tense and engaging but filled with horror and hate filled individuals who think nothing of violating others knowing they will get away with it. It is also quite brilliant in the way it remorselessly evokes the time and place.

A succinct and skilful rendition of base behaviour in a bleak yet awe inspiring landscape.

Originally released by Bluemoose Books, Beastings is now published by Bloomsbury.

Book Review: You Ruin It When You Talk

You Ruin It When You Talk, by Sarah Manvel, is the second novelette in Open Pen’s second five book series of small but mighty pocket sized paperbacks. I highly recommend you check out all these little nuggets of literary treasure. They are proof that succinct story telling can be as impactful and satisfying as more common weighty tomes.

Marketed as fiction, the tale is structured as a series of short anecdotes detailing encounters on the modern dating scene. These are as appalling as they are hilarious – an eye-opening exploration of the narcissism inherent when seeking a mate.

“Have you tried toning it down? Men will treat you better if they think you’re dumber than them.”

There are recurring characters: friends, coworkers, and sometime partners. Mostly though, the entries offer up conversation that lays bare ill-considered expectation.

“As the night wore on I was disappointed by my surprise. The glam location convenient for the tube back to his was supposed to guarantee him sex. And once it became clear his moves weren’t working, he spent the rest of the meal being rotten to me.
We split the cheque, so the unpleasantness at the end was limited to him kissing me outside the station, then stepping back and saying, “Wow, that was awful. You’re really bad at this.”
I replied, “Likewise.””

The narrator dates both men and women, most found through an online dating app. She encounters: the angry, the desperate, and the bizarre. One man was in regular phone contact with his mother who was interested in how the evening was progressing. Others are already in relationships. Both men and women are shown to be capable of insulting without, apparently, thinking.

“After a little chitchat, he said he liked my necklace.
“Thank you,” I said.
“And I’m really glad you wore it,” he said, “otherwise I’d have had nothing to compliment.””

The narrator is knowledgeable about films and enjoys sharing her opinions with those who also consider themselves aficionados. This does not go down well with certain men who will not accept that a women may disagree with them and be able to back up why.

It is not, of course, just men who can be awful.

“I walked into the Christmas party and the Romanian girl from marketing said, “Oh wow. This is the first time I’ve seen you look pretty.””

From those who spend the evening sharing intimate details of their exes to others who boast about having assaulted previous dates, the encounters can be horrifying as well as cringeworthy. They do, however, provide a rich seam to mine for humour and elucidation.

An entertaining unsheathing of the contemporary dating scene. Written with candid and always engaging flourish.

You Ruin It When You Talk is published by Open Pen.

Book Review: They Threw Us Away

Although I am posting this review well into November, They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus (illustrated by Rovina Cai), was my Halloween read. A story about teddies waking up in the middle of a massive and putrid rubbish dump instead of in the warm bed of a loving child looked to be the perfect horror story for an arctophile such as myself. The tale turned out to be not quite what I had expected.

In the same way that Watership Down features rabbits but is not exactly about rabbits, so They Threw Us Away features a small group of intrepid teddy bears but is not exactly about teddies. Rather, it is an allegory about what is granted value by contemporary humans and the way we too often ignore, discard and put in danger that which should be cherished.

There are certainly horror elements in the story. A scene in the back room of a store is particularly disturbing, evoking as it does images of survivors in the mass graves of genocide victims. The innocence and cute factor of teddy bears soon gives way to recognition of how people can come to be treated when viewed as an unwanted mass, and thereby dehumanised.

They Threw Us Away opens with Buddy, a blue bear made by the prestigious Furrington Company, waking up in a rubbish dump with no memory of how he got there. Finding himself able to move, freed for the first time from the confines of his packaging, he investigates the unpleasant surroundings. Close by he finds four other bears and sets about releasing them too. Together they try to survive the dump’s many predators before deciding they need to escape.

A teddy bear exists to be chosen by a child whose loving hug will send them into Forever Sleep – the teddy equivalent of Happy Ever After. This is the dream that every bear sitting on a shelf in a shop harbours – that they will be chosen and thereby find fulfilment. They may long for a child rather than a Prince Charming but do not give due consideration to life beyond that moment of bonding.

One of the bears, Reginald, is older and has therefore acquired more knowledge. He tells stories of: the Mother; her personal teddy, Proto; and the eight Originals. Reginald remains calm, willing to join the others but morbidly fatalistic. Buddy and his sidekick, Sunny, remain more hopeful that they can somehow return to the world from which they were so inexplicably cast away. All take care of Sugar, who is the most damaged but retains her sweetness. Perhaps in a hat tip to Watership Down, she has a scary vision that her friends cannot yet interpret.

The bears in this story have innate skills such as an ability to read. Bravery and loyalty feature along with an appreciation of hugs and being there when needed. The longer their quest to find children takes, the more their personalities anthropomorphise. Naturally, this leads to damage and distress.

The voices given to some of the bears did not always sit well with the usual image of a teddy as a gentle and loving creature. Proto in particular is portrayed as rather coarse and self-centred. The rest of the sleuth enabled an exploration of the value to be found in differing characteristics.

The images of the city were particularly well rendered – viewed through the lens of small, now rather grubby beings, who understand the danger of being treated as garbage. People emerge as more threatening than the rodents or vehicles (although headlights in the dark are recognised as a warning to flee). The teddies encounter many dangers and do not survive unscathed.

This is the first story in a proposed trilogy. It stands well alone, with a denouement that offers scope for further developments and adventures. Not every thread is tied up neatly, although from hints given much can be inferred. It is not a difficult read, excepting certain distressing scenes. The numerous illustrations are welcome additions, especially when the story appears bleak. Unlike Robyn (this blog’s intern), who reviewed the book here, I would be wary of recommending this to young readers. It is marketed as a children’s book but has a darkness they would need to be capable of dealing with.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, although it took a while to catch the writing’s cadence. I will be interested in finding out what happens to the teddies next.

They Threw Us Away is published by Henry Holt (Macmillan).  

Book Review: Signal

Nightjar Press is an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors. Having checked their website, these books sell out quickly.

I am familiar with the author of Signal from his recent novel, The Complex, published by Salt in 2019. Like his longer work, Signal has a dark underbelly. Framed by a contemporary town on the eve of Christmas Eve, the glittering façade of partying nightlife contrasts with the loneliness behind the invisible masks people don on such occasions.

The story opens with a young woman, Kate, walking home after work. As she passes an apartment block on her familiar route she is looking for recognisable faces at lit windows – a kind of distant companionship. A glitch in her personal electronic device distracts her, after which she notices a naked man looking out from one of the top floor residences. He is not the only disturbance in her periphery. The narrative pulls cankers from a variety of encounters – perturbing imagery abounds.

We learn that Kate is estranged from her parents and that her sister died while at university. The grief from this latter event is still raw, invading Kate’s dreams. Unable to face her housemate’s plans for the evening, Kate embarks on a moonlit walk. The sense of foreboding is masterfully deployed.

“Town had a circus vibe.”

Throughout the unfolding tale the reader is kept guessing as to what is illusory and what real. Kate takes what some may consider to be risks, seeking closure on a period of her life denuded of prospects. It is not the darkness or shadows she fears but rather the relentless reality of her day to day existence. Her sense of loss pervades.

The reader is drawn into the tale, its unsettling developments rising like smoke to mingle with the vestiges of sense Kate tries to cling to. The writing is liminal, so much on the edges distracting from actions and reasoning. The denouement leaves much to ponder – vestiges of a storm in which Kate’s evening was the eye.

A study of grief and loneliness set around the season of glitter and hollow cheer. A broodingly atmospheric and memorable read.

My copy of this story was provided gratis by the publisher, Nightjar Press.

Book Review: London Gothic

Nicholas Royle has been described by a Sunday Times reviewer as a ‘craftsman of disquiet’. London Gothic, his latest short story collection, provides a fine example of why he deserves such praise. Across fifteen deliciously disturbing tales, written between 2000 and the present day, he offers glimpses of contemporary London as seen through the lenses of artists – and other residents the aspiring and successful brush up against. Settings include: flats carved from once spacious houses, hipster style art galleries, and a ‘country house’ hotel. Alongside an undercurrent of the macabre there is much humour. Royle is not afraid to poke fun at his peers and those they may venerate.

The collection opens with Welcome, an apparently jolly letter to new home owners that quickly sets the scene for the author’s ability to summon unease.

There follow a number of stories that explore how little can be known of other’s reasoning – the perturbing methods they employ to solve troubling issues.

The Neighbours tells of a burgeoning relationship that stalls when the man feels shadowed by another couple paying too close attention. Much is inferred but the reader is trusted to reach their own conclusion.

This lack of spoon-feeding is a strength in these tales. Undertows pervade with questions hanging over what is real and what a product of a character’s history, personality and concerns.

The Old Bakery is something rather different, and a strong addition. In it, a sub-editor is working on a piece commissioned for a Sunday Supplement in which a wealthy couple are showing the space they have created from the titular building. The tone of the interview is faux-humble, exacerbated by the writer’s collusion and sycophancy. It is a wonderful take-down of smug artistes, nepotism, and the jealousy of those not included within inner circles.

Another story that strays from the themes of hauntings, doppelgängers and murder is Constraints. It harnesses a form that is somewhat experimental yet has been made to work.

Lesser known histories of the city add to the colour and flavour of many of the tales. Buildings referenced may or may not exist in real life but are still familiar. Changes have been made over time to structure and interior but they retain glimpses of what they once were. Incomers will try to cash in on the nostalgia this generates.

The author frequently plays with his reader, most obviously in the story, London. This includes a description that appeared to meander into rather boring detail, followed by a rejoinder for the inevitable lapse in attention.

“Go ahead. Skim. I’m just telling you what I saw. It might be important. It might not.”

Suitably chastised, I reread the paragraph. I will not spoil by saying if this were necessary.

Several stories contain elements that could be regarded as self-referential, challenging the reader to admit to a conceit that they believe they might know something of the author. I enjoyed the playfulness with which these were introduced.

London plays with many aspects of mise en abyme. The tale told is not always straightforward but provides much to reflect on.

The collection concludes with The Vote. Set in a hotel it is an allegory for Brexit but avoiding the usual bile and blame. Characters were pigeon-holed by newspapers. The Times man may have been ‘a former Guardian reader’ who ‘tired of that paper’s obsession with certain issues’. He can socialise with the Telegraph man, if only for their brief stay in this shifting space.

“The Times man was still in the game, still a player, a stakeholder. But he knew that he and the Telegraph man were basically from the same stock. They could get on. Their wives could get on. This was how the country worked.”

Mostly though the stories in this collection avoid any hint of politics, reflecting more on class and culture – and the chasms these create. They offer up a dark underbelly lurking within everyday situations. Fabulous, at times chilling, storytelling to curl up with as the evenings draw in.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cōnfingō.

Book Review: Cat Step

Cat Step, by Alison Irvine, is one of those rare stories that will appeal to readers looking for a compelling thriller and also those who enjoy delving deeper into how an author uses language and form to satisfy and linger. From beginning to end there is an underlying tension. Unlike so many popular thrillers, there is no middle of the book pause to catch breath before introducing a change of direction that will allow for a twisty denouement. Cat Step remains consistent, holding attention without compromising character traits and development. The story has an intriguing plot offering much to consider. The protagonist is a tenacious, if fallible, narrator.

Set in Lennoxtown, where long time residents know everyone else’s business, the tale is told by a young mother, Liz, who is looking back on a period in her life when she and her daughter, Emily, lived there. Within the first few paragraphs it is stated that this was a time for which some explanation will be needed when Emily asks questions. Liz must decide what she will and won’t tell her child.

Liz is a dancer who, for a time, earned good money working on cruise ships. It was here that she met her partner, Robbie. She travels to Lennoxtown because his grandmother has died and his brother – who now lives in Australia – has asked Liz if she will clear the old lady’s flat and prepare it for sale. Liz had been living with her mother in London and sees the request as an opportunity to get back on her feet after a difficult few years – and to find out more about Robbie, who grew up in Lennoxtown but rarely talked about the place.

Shortly after arrival, Liz makes a decision that will draw the attention of the locals and then the police. Social Services become involved and Liz’s parenting falls under scrutiny.

Emily is not an easy child to care for. She demands her mother’s attention, throwing violent tantrums if she does not get her way. Liz wants to be a good mother but struggles to cope with a child who will not give her space even for a casual, adult conversation. Without her mother to help, Liz has no option but to cope. She sometimes makes mistakes.

The author perfectly captures the difficult aspects of parenting – the reactions and choices made in the heat of a moment that cannot be admitted to for fear of opprobrium, or worse. Liz is trying her best to make the move to Lennoxtown work, considering if it could become more permanent. She finds a nursery for Emily and then a job for herself at a sheltered housing complex. Here she meets June, who briefly becomes her friend. What Liz has yet to discover is that the residents of the town gossip freely amongst themselves but will resist opening up to her.

The facts that gradually unfold are engrossing but the strength of the story is the depiction of Liz as a struggling, single mother who is perceived – sometimes by herself – as failing. Social Services must ensure that Emily is safe and nurtured, but their involvement adds to the stresses Liz must deal with.

She may be a troubled character but Liz is no walkover and far from a fool. Is there any parent who has never taken an occasional misstep when dealing with their cantankerous offspring? Most are simply not caught in the headlights of authority, condemned by neighbours. Liz’s reactions may at times be regrettable but her situation adjures empathy.

Have I emphasised enough how well written this book is? The prose is taut and understated, flowing and effortlessly engaging. It provides a story that deals with difficult and at times worrisome behaviour, with personal grudges manifesting in overt criticism of a young woman’s behaviour. A trenchant yet always gratifying read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.

Robyn Reviews: Northern Wrath

Northern Wrath has everything you could want from a Viking novel – dark, gritty, visceral, and firmly rooted in Norse mythology. The characters are intriguing, the plot even more so, but it’s the atmosphere that makes this. At every turn, you feel like you’ve been enveloped in the harsh, unyielding world of the Vikings.

There are many point of view characters – possibly too many, although it’s always very clear which character is being followed – but the most important seem to be Hilda, Einer, and Siv. Hilda is the daughter of Ragnar, the storyteller of Ash-hill, who cannot raid with the other Vikings due to a leg wound suffered in his youth. Hilda wants nothing more than to be a warrior, going on raids and fighting so she can ascend to Valhalla – but her father wants her safe, and the chief has promised that Hilda will never be allowed to raid. Determined not to let that stop her, Hilda takes control of her own fate – with huge consequences. Her ending of this book was incredible and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Einer is the son of the chief, and everyone expects him to be chief after his father. A strong but fair man, he loves Hilda and can’t understand why she keeps refusing to be with him. He also has a secret – a secret which would damage his future forever – that must be kept. Thilde Kold Holdt does a great job making you care for her characters, and no-one shows this better than Einer – he comes across as a lovely, gentle giant, despite being a Viking who regularly kills people.

Siv is Einer’s mother. She has lived in Ash-hill for some time, but it is not her place of origin. If Einer has a secret, Siv has a large box full of particularly angry secrets all desperate to get free and be heard. Her road is very different to Einer and Hilda’s, and she provided a very different perspective. Her relationship with Tyra was heartwarming – Siv was another caring yet deadly character, with deadly somewhat of an understatement.

The other major characters I expect will play a larger role in sequels. Buntrugg is intriguing, especially in the latter half of the book, and I’m interested to see the repercussions of his actions in the sequel. Ragnar has an entirely separate character arc, the meaning of which was not revealed here. His parts are enjoyable, but without any sort of conclusion they almost seem like side notes. Finn is an unlikeable character, but his perspectives spark pity – likely the intent. Sigismund is very wise, and whilst his perspectives add little, he has a lovely relationship with Einer – he’s another character who I think has bigger things to come.

The main issue with this book is that it feels less like a complete novel and more like a part one. It ends with no conclusion and more questions. It would have been nice to have had a more solid ending – after seven hundred pages, the reader deserves some sort of payoff. Nonetheless, this is an excellent story and probably the best Viking or Norse mythology novel I have ever read.

Overall, I highly recommend for fans of Norse mythology and the Vikings. If you’re looking for a gritty epic fantasy with huge scope and excellent worldbuilding, you’ll find it here. I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next installment – hopefully one with some answers.

 

Published by Rebellion
Paperback: 27th October 2020

Book Review: The Glass Hotel

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

“What kept her in the kingdom [of money] was the previously unimaginable condition of not having to think about money, because that’s what money gives you: the freedom to stop thinking about money. If you’ve never been without, then you won’t understand the profundity of this, how absolutely this changes your life.”

The most important thing to say about The Glass Hotel is that it was a pleasure to read. The characters are fully formed and complex, doused with a realism that keeps the reader interested in their fates. They each have a purpose in the unfolding plot that adds nuance and depth. There are many inter-relationships and passing cross-references to parse, enabling a consideration of varying perceptions. I enjoyed the author’s habit of dropping titbits from the future as the timeline moved back and forth across decades. This served to provoke curiosity in how the character would reach the future development in their life trajectory.

What I wasn’t so impressed with was the denouement. By choosing to open the story with a brief reveal of the ultimate fate of a key character, I was left disappointed when the detail was added and a conclusion built. Having savoured the skill with which the author writes, I turned the final page and felt dissatisfied. Perhaps I was simply unwilling to go with the author’s suggestion of possibilities.

The glass hotel itself is a luxury destination on a remote peninsula in Canada, where the moneyed may relax and feel detached from their busy lives. It is here that Jonathan – who specialises in investments – meets Vincent, a bartender who grew up nearby. Their families, friends and business associates form the core of the pool of characters.

The story is set between 1958 and 2029, with certain years particularly eventful. How to make money, and why it is required, is a recurring theme. The focus is on those who were not born into wealth so had to find a way to acquire what they needed – to both survive and then live a life aspired to. There are explorations of the morality of choices made – how characters justify their actions, if only to themselves.

Vincent has an older half-brother, Paul, who harbours ambitions to be a composer and musician. He is also a drug addict, always resenting that Vincent got to live with their father. The dynamic between these two as they reach adulthood offers a fine study on the psychology of family.

Jonathan’s first wife – his confidante and mother of their daughter – dies of cancer. He is the owner of the glass hotel and visits regularly, seeking investors. His life revolves around his business although he enjoys his wealth, using it as a symbol of his success. When he takes on a much younger woman to be his new wife, it is mutually beneficial but not a love match.

Over the decades, the story follows several of Jonathan’s investors, some of whom regard him as a friend. The author touches on their lives lightly but always adding to development. These artists and businessmen rarely consider the financial cushion on which the rest of what they do has been built.

Money can be made and also lost, the impact of which inevitably varies. Certain characters need the respect they believe financial success accords them. Others find a way to move forward, but always with thoughts of what might have been. There is anger and also bewilderment.

Although the plot is engaging and offers much to mull over, this is a character driven story. Perceived success is depicted as a veneer; life as a state of flux, relationships mostly a masquerade. Roles played and compromises made affect self-esteem.

The writing is a master class in building anticipation, the structure aiding progression at an assured pace. The various characters may at first glance appear vanilla but by delving deeper into their psyches they offer up dilemmas more widely representative.

Any Cop?: I may not have felt satisfied by the ending, yet this was still a story well worth reading. Its complex themes never detract from the ease of engagement. A lingering thought provoking tale in myriad ways.

Jackie Law