REVIEWS by Adèle Geras
BAD FAITH by Gillian Philip Strident Publishing Ltd pbk £6.99
When I say that Gillian Philip’s novel is hard-hitting, I’m not indulging in clichéd critic-speak. I ought to flag up a warning here: this book is not for those of a tender disposition. It’s not ever gratuitously violent but Philip is too honest a writer to gloss over the detail of the terrible crimes that do occur. ‘Hard-hitting’ is what goes on in several places in a literal sense, but there’s much more to this book than the physical acts which are committed in it. It’s a dystopia of a most unusual kind. The world is recognisably ours in many ways but the One Church now rules supreme, under the sway of one Ma Baxter who sounds cosy and as though she might be part of the Baxter soup empire but who is very sinister indeed. No one is safe from religious spies and thugs and the reach of the One Church goes everywhere and runs counter to anything good we’ve come to expect from Christianity. In this atmosphere, Cassandra and her dear friend, Ming, together with Cass’s beloved brother have several very urgent matters to deal with, involving not only murder in the present day, but also terrible family secrets and revelations from the past, both distant and recent. To say more would compromise the thriller aspect of the book, which is very exciting and involving but what can be said is that Philip’s writing is terrifically engaging throughout: both colloquial and fast and at the same time poetic and lyrical when it needs to be. And she has a cracking first sentence which makes you want to read on. “Before I slipped on the mud and fell over the Bishop, our family didn’t have a lot to do with murder. A little, but not much.”
Well, you have to find out what’s going on, don’t you? And if you do, you’re in for a roller-coaster of a read, full of believable and likeable characters, horrid villains of an unexpected kind and the effects of violence given their proper weight and not glossed over, comic-book style. It’s the kind of book that holds your attention throughout and Cassandra, whose first person account it is, is a heroine we come to care for during the course of the book. Also,(and this is something I always appreciate in a novel) Philip writes about places so that you can really see them and imagine yourself there. I enjoyed Bad Faith enormously.
WASTED by Nicola Morgan Walker Books pbk £6.99
Here’s a novel from Nicola Morgan, another writer from Scotland who also deals honestly with matters which might cause squeamish people some alarm. I still haven’t quite got over the beginning of her Fleshmarket which depicts an operation without anaesthetic carried out on a woman. Nothing in Wasted will make you look away, however. It’s a very well-written and well-structured story which depends for its effects on a clever device. Jack, for reasons explained in the story, conducts his life by the toss of a coin. He lets this coin make all his decisions for him and this leads to several places where the outcome is hanging on this gamble. At various points in the text, Morgan outlines the different results that might follow, depending on whether you get Heads or Tails. The reader is therefore somehow complicit in what happens to the characters, rather in the manner of a game. This could become too clever for its own good or simply tricksy, but the strong and likeable characters whose fates we actually come to care about prevent this from happening. The plot, even stripped of its gambling element, would be engaging in itself. It’s a story of young love, of rivalry, and of guilt and young people will be fascinated by it. Like Philip, Morgan is good at sense of place and the way she sometimes switches perspective from her main narrators (Jack and his friend Jess) to, for instance, the cat means that the book is constantly surprising you. Every so often, Morgan stops the novel in its tracks and asks the reader to choose the outcome and the pages are interspersed with quotations from philosophers and scientists about chance, fate and so forth. Intriguing and fast-moving, this is sure to be a favourite with boys as well as girls. Morgan has written non-fiction about the brain but here it’s the heart she’s mainly interested in and what can happen when the emotions have to cope with the vagaries of chance. .
PS...Further to my quilts post, I had a very nice email from Susan Prichard to whom I sent the link and she says this: "I read your blog with interest - just to let you know the shop does
indeed stock magnets, which you can also buy on line. Follow this link:
Many apologies to Sue and the V&A.