Just finished Natural Flights of the Human Mind by Clare Morrall. (Haven't yet read her Booker-shortlisted Astonishing Splashes of Colour yet, although I hope to soon.)
Natural Flights tells the story of two lonely people, both social misfits. Peter Straker lives in a lighthouse on the edge of a crumbling cliff. His dreams are haunted by the voices of the 78 victims of an accident he caused almost 25 years previously, and can only cope with life by adhering rigidly to a self-imposed timetable. His mission is to find out as much as he can about his victims so that they won't be forgotten.
Imogen Doody, a school caretaker who inherits a run-down cottage in the same village, has also lived with guilt for much of her life - her sister committed suicide and she suspects that it may be her fault. She also nurses the deep sorrow of her husband's disappearance not long after their marriage, and copes by turning her formidable temper on everyone she encounters.
Where the book works best is in exploring the whole question of how it's possible to live with guilt, and be forgiven for an act which causes the death of others when (of course) nothing in the past can be changed.
I liked the main protagonist and enjoyed the slow unfolding of an unlikely love story. What kept me reading was that I was rooting for this awkward and unlovely middle-aged couple to find a way out of their pain and end up happy together in Doody's little cottage. (I am a romantic at heart, actually.)
But honestly, so much else in this book is a mess. There are just too many totally unbelievable coincidences. One or two you can swallow (after all real life throws some unbelievable stuff at us) but here there was just too much improbabilty to swallow. I feel there are way too many plot strands as the novelist attempts to fill in the background. Most seriously of all, most of the minor characters don't lift off the page and the dialogue is sometimes very flat. The pacing sometimes seemed wrong - particularly in the great rush of events towards the end.
Would I recommend it? Yes, for a lightweight, effortless read, and for the issues it raises. But not for its literary merit.
(Also read recently: Bill Bryson's memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. But since I want to review it won't say any more about it now.
What have you been reading?)