24 September 2009

Small Wars (Sadie Jones)

I am trying to create the perfect ambience to write this review, as I have been putting it off for a week and I think that perhaps it is my writing environment that is the problem. I am snuggled on the couch with coffee and a blanket- temper and temperature have been catered to. I have changed my wallpaper to an Antoni Tàpies painting to imbue me with inspiration and superimposed a picture of Daniel Craig on it to make it more interesting. Radiohead's Exit Music (For a Film) is playing to suppress my mood in hopes of directing my concentration to the task at hand.

Small Wars by Sadie Jones...

Is it well-written? Without a doubt. Jones has a deft, no-nonsense approach to her writing. She comes across as an incredibly creative and articulate author who has no patience for flowery prose. Her writing always seems to have been reined in to within an inch of its life, yet still, determinedly, beautiful sentences blossom on the page.

Is it compelling? Sort of. Like Ian McEwan, Jones has a knack for creating tension from the most inane of moments. Was she able to twist my stomach with anxiety and excitement like McEwan does? No. However, maybe she wasn't going for the clamorous, institutionalised menace that McEwan favours. Maybe Jones was AIMING for soft core tension.

Is is predictable? No... to her credit it is not. I picked the extramarital affair within the first couple of chapters and felt a rising scorn for this second offering from Jones. Compared to The Outcast I was preparing myself to be most disappointed with this follow up. Then, suddenly, OUT OF THE BLUE, the plot does an abrupt 180 and the reader is left scrambling to work out what just happened.

I think the main problem I have with the novel is tempo. It has a relatively slow and uneventful story line throughout and then a huge amount happens within about 15 pages. And then it ends. The denouement I also have a problem with. Is it ambiguous or is it lazy?

If pressed to tell you what the book is actually about I can't sum it up in a way that sounds interesting. Hal Treherne has been posted to Cyprus in 1956. His young wife Clara and their twin daughters join him. Mild tension ensues. This inane synopsis should not deter you. If pressed to produce a blurb of In Search of Lost Time I would probably come up with something similarly lacklustre.

That's not to say I think Jones is on par with Proust. But you get my drift.

All in all, a good, solid novel, lacking the raw intensity of The Outcast but perhaps, instead, demonstrating a more polished writing style. Whether or not this is a good thing... sigh. I don't know.

Rating: 8/10.
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