I received review copies of the three novels below, but for one reason or another, I felt unable to finish them. Rather than just relegate them to the abandoned pile, I felt that it was still important to write reviews, and although not comprehensive, my thoughts about each title are as follows.
1. The Gardener of Ochakov – Andrey Kurkov
This is the first of Kurkov’s books which I’ve read, and I think that it may be the last for a while. Although The Gardener of Ochakov is nicely written, and Amanda Love Darragh’s translation does not feel stilted in any way, there is nothing outstanding which serves to capture the reader’s attention in the first few chapters. The novel
opens in Irpen, a town outside Kiev, where a retired woman named Elena Andreevna is living with her son, Igor. Whilst standing outside her house, she is introduced to rather an unseasonable gardener named Stepan. On the first morning in which Stepan is engaged in employment for the family, Igor looks out of his window to find the gardener ‘standing there in nothing but a pair of black underpants’, ‘the blurred dark blue marks, as though someone had tried to cover up or remove an old tattoo’ on his arm all the more prominent. When asked about these marks, Stepan says, ‘I can remember crying. Apparently my old man included some kind of secret code in the tattoo’. Igor promises to help him decipher it, along with a friend of his who is something of a computer whizz. Much focus is placed upon the modern way of life which the characters live under – the abundance of food, electricity and the Internet, for example. The mild intrigue regarding the meaning of the tattoo is revealed all too soon, and the materialistic elements of the plot ruin the story somewhat.
2. The Bookstore – Deborah Meyler
The blurb of The Bookstore says that it is ‘a witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan’. Esme, the book’s protagonist, is a British woman studying Art History at Columbia University. Her first person perspective begins, ‘I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess. This is unfortunate, because ever since I woke up this morning I’ve had a feeling that I might be in one’. Her narrative voice is not an engaging one despite the promise of this opening, and she soon seems more interested with the quest to buy a bagel and tell the coffee shop owner that actually, their broken coffee machine is working, than anything else. She falls pregnant, her boyfriend leaves her, and the rest of the predictable plotline follows. The descriptions of The Owl bookshop and its ‘laconic and gentle owner’ George are nice enough, but Esme feels fake in her personam and is incredibly irritating at times. The Bookstore is filled with mundane information which fails to hook the reader.
3. The Lie – Helen Dunmore
The Siege is the only one of Dunmore’s novels which I have really enjoyed, despite reading an awful lot of her tales. Her prose style and storylines seem rather inconsistent from one book to the next, and that is certainly true when one reads her newest offering, The Lie. The novel is told from the first person perspective of Daniel Branwell, a young man who has returned from France after a stint in the Army. His narrative voice from the start is not a realistic male one, and it certainly sounds far too feminine to be anything close to plausible at times. Both of Daniel’s parents are dead, and his only company is an elderly woman named Mary Pascoe who lives nearby -‘Even with her milky eyes she still seemed more like a bird than a woman… I was glad that the humanness in her seemed to have been parched away, so that she was light enough to fly’ – and his memories. Whilst Dunmore’s descriptions are nice enough for the mostpart, the characters are not built up enough to seem realistic, and the story is not original enough to stand out. The relationships formed also seem rather awkward and stilted at times. On the whole, it has much in common with John Boyne’s The Absolutist, another First World War novel which I was sorely disappointed with.