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Deadly consequences

I was about one paragraph into Bathing the Lion and thought to myself, "Yes! This is going to be an amazing read!" There are few things in life that are like an amazing read, and I'll leave you to make your own lists, but it is definitely in my top 10, if not my top five.

Page by page I felt this initial reaction underscored again and again, as Carroll presented me with a cast of characters that grew and developed in depth and complexity.

His wry and knowing tone was by turns empathetic, humorous and excoriating - until suddenly it wasn't.

Dean wakes up one day and tells his wife, Vanessa, that they need to talk about their relationship. Vanessa seems to agree, and immediately calls her lover Kaspar looking for solace. Said lover, Dean's business partner, practices avoidance while Vanessa goes on a shopping spree at the mall with Dean's credit cards. She runs into her nominal boss, Jane who offers Vanessa a place to crash even though she hates Vanessa rather a lot. A mysterious child crops up, as does a sixty-something widower. They all meet in the middle of a road, in the middle of nowhere. Plus: a talking desk chair and a big red elephant.

I'm not sure what I thought I was reading - I mean, I read the jacket copy, so I understood that it was a fantasy in which five people all share the same dream and realise that they and their world are not what they think it was, and in turn, that they have to save it.

I was delighted that it wasn't terribly overt from the get go, that it seemed like it was meshing with an adult, literary fiction tone... until it wasn't any more, and I felt like I was suddenly reading some class of post-apocalyptic Young Adult (YA) book.

Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy a good post-apocalyptic YA book. It's just that the shift was jarring, and left me not only confused, but also annoyed.

I suppose it's a clever stroke, to mirror the reaction of the characters in the reader, in that feeling of disorientation and learning the new world as we all went along - but it fell well short of working.

I am all for unexpected plot twists and turns, for all manner of narrative creativity. I suppose what was irksome was that the opportunity to mesh an adult, literary fiction tone with a fantastical world was wasted.

SANCTUARY

By Robert Edric Transworld (2014) €12.99 HHHH

Despite not being a Bronteist I know that Branwell, brother to Charlotte, Emily and Anne, was not as celebrated as his sisters - despite being somewhat feted for being their sibling. In this, Edric tells the story of the prodigal son's return to the fold, the fold that had basically made it untenable for him to remain. Unsurprisingly, this is not a happy homecoming.

Held to standards he could not reach, and reviled for trying to follow a passion that his family found mundane, Branwell was never going to win - at least, not while his family's expectations mattered to him. This is handled in an interesting if fragmented fashion: each chapter reads like a glimpse of events.

And despite knowing exactly where the narrative's going, the staccato rhythm of the piece actually enhances the journey.

No trip through life is smooth, much less when one craves withheld familial peace and comfort. The flashes of goodwill, humour and love between the Brontes make Branwell's yearning all the more poignant.

BELLMAN AND BLACK

By Diane Setterfield Orion (2014) €19.40 HHH

At the age of ten years old and four days, William Bellman kills a rook with stone flung from his catapult. Little did he know that rooks have long memories and vengeful hearts, for many, many years later, everyone who comes in contact with William dies, and there's a figure all got up in a big swoopy black cloak who attends all the funerals.

Hmmm, wonder if that is a shape-shifting creature? The former village hero and respected businessman finds his life falling apart, so much so that William makes a pact with that mysterious stranger over an open grave. That ought to go well, right? Setterfield weaves a stunning tale in part one; part two suffers from a feeling of anti-climax.

AMNESIA

By Peter Carey Faber & Faber (2014) €27.50 HH

Felix Moore, a journalist with an axe to grind, is given the opportunity to meet with an elusive young woman whose tech skills have wrecked a virus-driven havoc on the world. If there was a literary equivalent of 'Ctrl+Alt+Delete' I would have done so once the connections to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo inevitably were made. Add to this a heap of references that went completely over my head to do with Australian politics, and it's a recipe for ambivalence. .

PERFIDIA

By James Ellroy Random House (2014) €17.99 HH

This is the first instalment in a planned quartet from the pen of the great chronicler of the underbelly of Los Angeles and by extension, the American Dream.

It is 720 pages long, which makes one shudder as to the volume of the remaining volumes, because this was terrifically hard going.

The story opens on 6 December, 1941, so you basically know what's going to happen in less than 24 hours. In reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbour, a Japanese family in LA is brutally murdered.

What follows seems to go on and on, violently; it's an exhausting amount of detail to take in. The cast of characters bloats beyond belief, as well, making it tiresome to keep track of who is who.

I think I'll skip the rest of the series, and just rent LA Confidential instead.


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