Snap, crackle, pffft


Three quick reviews. I wish it was ‘snap, crackle and pop’ but alas, one book in this trio fell short.

Feel like a story about teens that is aimed directly at adults? The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton is just the ticket. The dialogue is snappy, the teen characters appropriately melodramatic and there’s lots of sexy saxophone symbolism (that’s something I never thought I’d write). Truly, Catton does dialogue very, very well and the thumbnail moments she creates between the teenage girls are a spot-on balance between curiosity, jealousy, fear, and the particular brand of narcissism that teenagers specialise in. It takes a few chapters to get into this story (which happens to be about a sexual scandal between a teacher and student) and although I found the ending weak, the positives make The Rehearsal an interesting read.

Ian McEwan’s The Children Act literally crackles with tension – you’re always waiting for a punch-in-the-guts from McEwan. He is the master of the restrained moral conundrum and what he dishes up in The Children Act is crying out for lengthy book group discussions and dissection long-after you’ve finished the book. McEwan’s trademark cool, restrained delivery plays against a book that tackles big moral issues that you’ll want to think (hard) about. If you enjoyed On Chesil Beach, drop everything and read this.

It’s often said that the key to comedy is timing – that makes it really pop, right? Well, the problem with comedians writing books is that their delivery loses exactly that.  Jim Gaffney is a funny man. Really funny. But on the page? Too much. So I read Food: A Love Story in the smallest of increments. A chapter a week. If a sentence a night was doable, I probably would have done that. Because while one joke about souvlaki being ‘drunk food’ or the fact that everything should come with a side of bacon is great, twenty jokes in the one paragraph is too much. You can’t make readers pause for the boom-tish but you can pace your jokes.

The Rehearsal: 3.5/5
The Children Act: 4/5
Food, a Love Story: 2/5

28 responses

  1. Humour on the page is one thing but out and out comedy often falls flat, I think, even if it’s delivered by someone who makes their living from being funny. No second helpings for Mr Gaffney, then!

  2. I loved On Chesil Beach but The Children’s Act was a disappointment for me. McEwan got the emotions and sense of period so well in Chesil but not so much in his more recent fiction

    • Interesting because I did think this one most closely aligned with Chesil Beach – maybe because it was short and focused?? I loved Atonement and Chesil Beach and enjoyed Enduring Love. His others, less memorable (I think I’ve pretty much read them all…). This one ranks above Enduring Love but below Chesil Beach.

  3. The Children Act sounds like a must – and I think I saw it in my favourite charity bookshop at the weekend…

    I’m generally not one for comedy novels – it sounds like Jim Gaffney is not going to persuade me out of this prejudice!

    • If you see a copy of Children Act, pick it up. It’s a short book and would be an afternoon very well spent.

      I enjoy having a laugh over a book but it’s rare that I come across an author that actually makes me laugh-out-loud. Jonathan Tropper certainly makes me laugh, and most recently, Rebecca Harrington (‘Penelope’) had me drawing attention to myself on public transport but I don’t seek comedy out as a general rule. Suspect that this ended up in the TBR pile because of the food element…

  4. Glad you enjoyed The Rehearsal but I think I liked it more than you. Also I loved On Chesil Beach – loved – but have been put off The Children Act, not sure why. But intend to get there one day.

    • I think you did. Oddly, I read it as an entree to The Luminaries – I want to read Luminaries but it seems such a big book to tackle and I’m still feeling a little wrung-out from Flanagan’s Narrow Road… that might have just done me for chunky prize-winners this year! That said, I now realise that The Rehearsal and The Luminaries are miles apart – it’s like comparing oranges with cantaloupes.

      The Children Act is clever – there’s actually two stories within this one, compact book. I couldn’t put it down (much like when I read Chesil).

      • Yes The Rehearsal and The Luminaries – almost could have been different authors which is another reason I loved. Looking forward to your comments re Narrow Road. I did not love that one. I will get to the McEwan I do love his work.

  5. Like everyone else who has commented, I will also say thank you for reminding me to pick up The Children Act! I’ve only read Atonement by him. Should I read On Chesil Beach first?

    • I reckon On Chesil Beach and Atonement are his best books, with Children Act and Enduring Love following those. But all are quite different, so wouldn’t really matter what order you read them in as it’s not like his style ‘ progresses’ from one book to the next. Either way, enjoy!

  6. Gaffigan is notorious for talking in that falsetto voice to pretend he’s in the audience, which he can’t accomplish as well on the page, even if he did something like italics because that’s not what italics are typically used for.

    • No amount of italics or indeed the use of twenty different fonts could have saved the delivery of jokes in this book. They were funny but just too much. And because it was rapid fire, there was no chance to enjoy the joke and admire his wit before you were onto the next.

    • I think it’s really interesting that McEwan fans all have different favourites! One of my friends rates Amsterdam as one of the best books she’s ever read and for me, it was average. Conversely, I loved Chesil Beach, whereas she thought it was so-so. Atonement divided my book group (I loved it), as did Solar (I didn’t love that one). Testament to how good a writer he is, I wonder?

      • I think I liked Atonement best so far, but it was the first book of his I read. With Amsterdam, he had pulled the same kind of trick with the ending enough times that I was expecting something.

      • I’m the same – Atonement was the first I read and the one I’ve enjoyed the most. A friend rates Amsterdam as his best so I went in with high expectations (which weren’t met) – I kind of thought that Chesil Beach and Children Act didn’t rely on tricks as much.

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