‘Eleven’ by Mark Watson

Are you familiar with the nursery rhyme ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…’? Eleven by Mark Watson is a sophisticated version of that.

The story centres around radio DJ Xavier Ireland, whose single action, or rather lack of action, has a domino effect in the lives of eleven people living around him in the city of London.

There’s elements of Sliding Doors in this book – every so often the narrator hits the fast forward button and you get a glimpse at the fate of a particular character –

“Jamie – who lives in the garden flat downstairs, and will one day develop an antibody against two kinds of cancer…” and “The owner of the corner shop, a cheerful paunchy middle-aged Indian man who will die in three years’ time, puts Xavier’s items into a blue plastic bag…”

The story is carefully crafted, the crossover moments between the characters, seamless. I’m sure it’s far more difficult to mesh so many characters stories than Watson makes it appear.

The book is set in London but there are some flashback scenes set in Melbourne. As Melbourne is my home town, I was quite partial to these bits. Although Watson is a Brit (and as far as I could discover, has always lived in England), his descriptions of Melbourne are precise – he must have spent a fair bit of time here.

Eleven is not a funny book. Given that Watson is a comedian you would probably expect it to be. I certainly did (and the testimonials encouraged this with words like ‘witty’ bandied about). Honestly, there were no laugh-out-loud moments. Perhaps I missed the joke but it didn’t matter – I devoured this book in a single day on the beach and it was just right, all the way to the ambiguous ending.

3.5/5 I usually avoid giving wishy-washy half scores but in this case a three isn’t generous enough and doesn’t reflect how much I enjoyed the book… But a four puts it up there with some the my favourite lad-lit reads this year (Tropper and Norman) and while Eleven had feeling, it didn’t have the laughs those books did. So, can we settle for a strong 3.5? And I will be reading more from Mr Watson in the future.

Rarely do I come across a book so devoid of food references. There’s Chinese takeaway and plenty of cups of tea mentioned but neither are particularly inspiring. Instead, I’ll use Xavier’s ‘Big Cheese’ mug as my starting point and send my love the way of these Bacon, Gruyere and Green Onion Scones from the fabulous Spoon Fork Bacon blog. Because bacon. Because Gruyere.


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