As I sit and write this, buoyed by generous lashings of wine and sated with multiple helpings of string hoppers with delicious "sodhi" and chicken curry, I keep thinking if a thriller is an apt choice for a book club discussion. After all, as a genre, it is severely restrictive in the sense of what it needs to accomplish. It MUST thrill, pure and simple. Fancy wordplay, fleshed out characters and atmospherics, those tropes favoured for lengthy dissertations, are in a thriller, purely secondary to it's ability to keep the readers hooked to a plot that, out of necessity, must be breathlessly exciting, pacy and preferably twisty with multiple reversals before a riveting denouement that ties up all loose ends.I am actually missing Child 44 now I've finished it. It was such a lovely easy romp of a read - just what I need at the moment - and the dramatic tension never flags. It should emphatically not have been Booker longlisted even, because it really isn't literary fiction. (Though if it hadn't been nominated, would I have read it?)
Looking at my jottings of the various opinions put forth in our as usual febrile discussions of Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, one common factor that stands out is that it's not an especially well written book, making it's inclusion in a Booker Long-List that much more puzzling. As writers like James Lee Burke, John Connolly and Thomas Harris ably demonstrate, good writing needn't be concomitant to an engaging plot. So why this book over other far superior ones made the Booker long list cut?
As Sham (in her book club swan song) pointed out in a summation reeking of contempt, lots of things happen in this book, and she longed for it to happen in a better written one. Ditto Uma and Jessica who felt the writing was contrived.
As someone who devours thrillers (I average one every fortnight) it now comes to a point where unless a skilled hand is behind the telling, I can usually see a twist coming a mile off, as I did here, echoed by Diana (our new member) who didn't find it engrossing in the least and found the ending a little too pat.
Sharon took issue with the multiple points of view on display in this book while Alina felt the violence very dark and gratuitous (although I must interject here and say this is pretty much de rigueur for most thrillers being written today) and the book's tone hollow while finding Smith's depiction of an oppressive regime anything but compelling.
In addition to being a lovely host, thanks to Alison for pointing out the "gay" sub-text in Child 44 (Vasily's obsession with Leo, persecution of homosexuals etc), something my all but dormant "Gay"dar would never have picked up (I frequently pause in typing this to slap my forehead).
Taj and Alice probably encapsulate my thoughts best in finding the book a thoroughly entertaining read with nary a wasted word. It has a gruesome beginning, engrossing middle and a twisty end with doors left wide open for a sequel.
I pride myself on soundbites, but it's Sharon who delivered the best one for the night; after the constipation of overtly literate books, this au fait airport thriller debut from Tom Rob Smith is a perfect laxative:-)
But I did very much enjoy it as a thriller, and was even able to forgive the improbable workings of the plot. It would be the ideal read for a very long flight, and I expect to see a really good film made from it soon. (KayKay says Ridley Scott is on the case.)
Here's Tim Rob Smith reading from and talking about the book :
Incidentally, the next read the group has decided on (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) also takes place - at least partly, under a very oppressive regime, in a climate of fear - this time in The Dominican Republic so there is still no escaping this accidental theme that seems to have wrapped itself around us.