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An early ending

At what stage does a disgruntled reader give up on his/her book? It’s an issue that troubles many a book club.

Some have rules that provided the member gives a cogent reason he/she can give up. I was guest at one where Saul Bellow novel The Adventures of Argie March was “set”. At least half the group had either not read it or had given up on it. Saul Bellow is not a easy read but he is one of the titans of modern American literature alongside Philip Roth and John Updike. He is challenging but worth the effort. Some bibliophiles will not join a book group as they do not want their reading prescribed.

I mention this as I have just given up on The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan. I had read a previous novel set in Denmark titled  I can’t  Begin to Tell You  in World War Two which I enjoyed.

This novel starts  in a intriguing and mysterious way in which a contemporary yuppie couple, digging up an old sycamore tree in the back garden of their house off Clapham Common, discover a skeleton.

The novel then rewinds back  to just after the war. A barrister Guy involved in intelligence work as an interrogator of Nazis marries a German girl Krista and brings her back to the self-same home he has inherited.

Living there are his two sisters Julia and Tilly. Julia, whose husband Martin a RAF pilot was shot down and killed, makes her antipathy towards Krista very apparent. Tilly, more bohemian and promiscuous, is more welcoming. The problem is the novel does not develop as a story, the characters are either opaque or unattractive and some of the incidents lack credibility.

One such is Teddy the brother of Guy’s ex-fiancee Nella – jilted by Guy – setting up Julia sexually for a business colleague. One doubts if this would ever happen, let lone in post-war austerity Britain in a middle class milieu.

Some of the comparison of life-style between Krista, who was raped by a Russian soldier, and the sad, bereaved widow Julia are of interest but not enough to sustain this reader. I was curious to wonder whose the body was. I suspect it was not Krista‘s but my curiosity was not enough to override my dissatisfaction with the novel and half way through I said “Enough already”.

As the readers know I am big fan of Anthony Quinn who always maintains a pacy plot alongside attention to period detail.

I also like and admire Daphne du Maurier as a story teller. It’s a great gift and one which Elizabeth Buchan does not possess.

It would make a subject for an interesting book review: books only half read.

I was talking to our cricket writer Douglas Heath who had been reading England – a Biography by Simon Wilde, a history of the English cricket team.

He gave upon it after only one chapter as he felt the criticism of the old amateur ethos in cricket was unjustified and a product of a more classless time.

He felt a decent cricketing history should be objective and not drag up and out the same old stories about snobbery and prejudice to the professional but give credit to the cricketing prowess of a May, Dexter and Cowdrey.

In my case it was a easy choice to give up as the book was warmly recommended by someone whom I rarely see and I made a point of not mentioning to her that I have taken up her recommendation. No offence given taken or rendered.

About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts

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