Review — “The Fifth Voice” — Paul Connolly

The Fifth VoiceThe Fifth Voice by Paul Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second self-published novel I’ve read, and proves — if proof were needed — that there are many more story-tellers out there than the gatekeepers of traditional publishing allow through those gates. Although, at the same time, I understand that the gatekeepers only have towns of limited sizes, and can only nourish a certain population they hope will be productive (and I think I’ve strained that gatekeeper metaphor quite enough…).

Anyway, this is the simple tale of a barbershop quartet — yes, I said barbershop quartet — and of the lives and loves of the members of that quartet. The fifth voice of the title is a kind of supernumerary voice created by the perfect unison of the quartet members, but in the book becomes a metaphor for.. well.. many things. The plot and subplots are straightforward enough, with few twists and turns. It is a kind of lighthearted romcom/bromance about singing people. You aren’t going to be surprised where the plot goes, nor where the subplots end up.

But then, not every narrative needs, I feel, to include intricate webs of tangled threads and unusual weltbilds. If this is an ordinary tale about ordinary folk you or I might know, pursuing artistic fulfillment or self-actualisation through ordinary, if slightly unusual, hobbies, it is nonetheless interesting for that. As is often the case, a novel can be introduction to worlds unknown — in this case barbershop and a capella singing, and Lundy Island — and thus enrich a world.

Ultimately, this was an easy read, about people I might know, with problems I might understand, told in an entertaining an engaging way.

View all my reviews

Review: Crome Yellow

Crome Yellow
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed Crome Yellow a lot more than I expected to. I’m not one for humour in books, so if it was funny in a 1920s-style, that passed me by. Nothing much happens in the novel, and what passes for plot is slight. That it satirises and lightly mocks the world that Huxley moved in at that time is well-known: the Bloomsbury set, the Garsington crowd. And Huxley is self-knowing enough to realise that he is one of those people. It is tempting to see the protagonist Denis as Huxley himself; the young, slightly naif poet, moving among older, wiser, talented people, searching for something, but somewhat callow and innocent — many of the people Huxley mingled with at Garsington — Bell, Middleton Murray, Lawrence, Russell — were ten or more years older than he.

The crisis at the end is faintly ridiculous, but at the same time oddly true — for who else but a naif to whom nothing had happened would contemplate such an action?

Also of passing interest were hints of topics that would interest Huxley in his later books. Obviously, satirising intellectuals and the pre-occupations of a certain class would continue through Point Counter Point and Eyeless in Gaza; but, for example, one of the characters in Crome Yellow discusses an ideal society in which children are selected at birth for particular roles and educated so that those roles become their prescribed path through life — a prefiguration of the social rankings in Brave New World, of course.

Ultimately, Crome Yellow was light and frothy. It was a delight. A charm.

View all my reviews

Review: White Noise

White Noise
White Noise by Don DeLillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read “modern” novels of the “literate” variety, I am often perplexed at the dissonance that occurs between what I am feeling as I read, and the blurbs and puffs and reviews I glance at as I pick the book up and put the book down. “Splendidly funny”? “Macabre comedy”? Apparently, “nobody could complain that” the “novel isn’t funny.” See me? I’m holding my hand up.

Apparently, it’s “social comedy meets science fiction”. I laughed until my jetpack fell off. In the sense that there’s a “disaster”, and there’s a newly-invented drug, and there’s some colourful sunsets caused by the “disaster” it is a kind of science fiction; SF-light that contains the sort of vague techno-jargon that appears to make non-science-fiction-reading reviewers weak at the knees.

Of course, it couldn’t be a contemporary American novel without exposing “the absurdities” of “American existence”, observing “small town culture”, and “examining the ways in which American culture alienates people”; and apparently White Noise duly does. Although all I found was a slightly wry look at extended familial relationships in an age of easy divorce and serial monogamy. Yes, there were some pokes at post-modern academic life with the protagonist’s Hitler Studies and his colleague’s ramblings about popular culture. However, the colleague, while an able foil, falls out of the book unnoticed, and the point of their dialogues, apart from the arch amusement they provide, is difficult to fathom.

In the end, the characters seem thinly drawn, and motivations seem lacking; this lack of motivation was particularly telling when it came to the denouement, I felt.

Nonetheless, I read the novel through to the end, and I might even read it again one day. There was enough wryness and archness to keep me vaguely amused. The writing style was interesting enough that I might consider other DeLillo novels in the future.

View all my reviews