Thursday, 30 April 2009

REVIEW by Adèle Geras

HEARTS AND MINDS by Amanda Craig. Little, Brown hbk.

This is a novel which satisfies on so many levels that I felt I had to draw it to people's attention. It's one of those books which pulls you in from the very first page. It starts with a murder - a sure way to get a reader's attention. This is more than the very simple a shot rang out type killing. Rather, Craig sets up a mysterious and atmospheric crime which highlights the fact that London (almost the main character in the book) is still a place capable of hiding dark secrets of every kind.

We see the story unfold through the eyes of several narrators. From a trafficked prostitute to a human rights lawyer; from an American journalist to a South African teacher, and we take in all kinds of other people along the way, some of whom have appeared in Craig's previous work. We are never confused, never disoriented, though it is hard to see at first how these separate stories will come together at last. But of course they do, and when they do, the way Craig has arranged it seems inevitable. Each of plot strands is interesting in its own right. Some are moving, some exciting, some funny and some simply a vivid picture of life in London in the 21st century but the skill of the book is in how Craig brings everything together to form an intricate and convincing narrative tapestry.

Many novels are well-written but a bit boring. Many more are thrilling and badly written. Some, like this one, are fascinating and nailbiting and also satisfy on a sentence by sentence basis. The most impressive thing about this book is its architecture: the clever way it's constructed and assembled, but it's also gossipy, funny, full of hair-raising accounts of terrible things, and like the very best of Dickens, it'll make you gasp and make you cry while giving you a few laughs along the way. It is also satisfactorily fat, so it will entertain you for longer than one sitting. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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