orphn choirDo you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one? What about noisy neighbours? The most famous ghost story ever told is set around this time of year. As for my experiences with them, yes I believe in them. Thanks to a rather chilling night in Wicklow’s historic gaol (www.wicklowshistoricgaol.com), south of Dublin and the numerous unexplained stuff featured on Pick TV’s “Most Haunted”.  As for the noise from next-door, no, we just have thin walls my neighbours would wholeheartedly agree. So what does this have to do with this month’s book, it’s The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah.

Sophie Hannah is a British Novelist and Poet; she has previously s_Sophie-Hannahwritten eight psychological thrillers featuring her characters Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, the most recent being The Carrier (2013). They have  been adapted for TV as the series “Case Sensitive” starring Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd. She’s also written two children’s books and this one horror novella also published in 2013.

The Orphan Choir tells the story of Louise Beeston, a mother of one, whose gifted son Joseph is forced to board at a school in Cambridge so he can sing in the schools elite boys’ choir. She doesn’t like this, believing he’s being detained against his will by his choir master but has gone along with her husband’s wishes for the betterment of her son’s education. Then her neighbour Justin or Mr Fahrenheit as she refers to him, who  smokes hash and drinks with his fellow delinquent friends, starts playing loud music at all hours of the night at full volume. She complains to the council but to no avail, then she starts to hear not Just “Queen” being played in the wee small hours, but choral music sung by young children. She suspects Mr. Fahrenheit is tormenting her.   When the opportunity comes up to move to a private estate in the Cambridgeshire countryside, fearing for her sanity, she jumps at the chance but the choral music doesn’t stop. Louise must find out how Mr. Fahrenheit is managing to get to her this far out of town – or is he responsible?

This is the best time of year to read spooky books, well not just Christmas time, but winter in general. When the nights have closed in and the wind is howling around the rafters. The cover of the book really catches your attention, so does the title. It suggests all manner of things and my mind was racing away at thoughts of what might lie beyond the covers. Alas the book is a let down in certain aspects. Yes it tells a good story and the idea was a good one but it comes across as more like  the demented ravings of a menopausal woman than someone haunted by the sounds of an unseen choir of children.


Near the end there are a couple of nice twists and the liturgical responses which pop up through out the story, because they are being sung by the choir would probably add something to the piece if  I could sing or even hum them to get a feel for it or if I’d had the time to hunt the music out and have it playing in the background while reading. This only confirmed my suspicions that unless you are familiar with the music featured in the book, it would only really get the hair standing on the back your head if it was adapted for radio. But apart from that it falls short of the first rule of horror writing… Scare them.

So over the remaining months and weeks of winter, if you’re searching for something to have you looking over your shoulder, and flinching at every little sound on those dark cold evenings, this book isn’t it. Me, I’d worry about the credit card bill that’s coming in a couple of week’s time, that’s the scariest thing, this side of Christmas.


Let me take this opportunity to thank all those of you who have started to follow The Library Door and through the various social media made others aware of it’s existence. May you have a happy new year and enjoy reading all my future reviews from beyond The Library Door.  Adrian



trust your eyesWe’ve come a long way over the past couple of millennium in the area of cartography and navigation. From the days when sailors navigated the globe using charts, sextants and the stars to modern ordinance survey maps and our present day use of GPS and Sat. Nav’s in our cars and phones. In 2005 the next step arrived in the form of Google maps “street view”, as a result of their funny looking vehicles which travel the planet photographing every inch of road around us. Thanks to this development, you can now see what your destination looks like or even visit somewhere totally random such as Springfield Illinois, Tel A Viv or San Francisco from the comfort of your own home and take a virtual drive around the area. This may sound a bit sad, but I must admit I’ve whiled away a lunch hour now and again doing it. This activity is the premise for Linwood Barclay’s thriller “Trust Your Eyes”, published in 2012

The book tells the story Thomas Kilbride who suffers from psychiatric problems. As a result he lives with his dad and spends all day every day in his room travelling the globe memorizing the streets of every city on the planet via “Whirl360” a fictional version of Google maps street view. When his father dies in an apparent accident on his ride on mower, Thomas’s brother Ray, a talented freelance illustrator for newspapers and websites returns home to attend to his father’s affairs.  He realises how bad his younger brother’s problems are when he discovers Thomas thinks he’s getting instructions from ex President Bill Clinton to work on a “Black-Ops” mission for the CIA, so much so that he’s started emailing updates to a random CIA email, which results in a visit from the “Fed’s”. Then one day while on a virtual trip down a street in New York Thomas thinks the “Whirl360” car has caught the image of a murder taking place in an apartment block.

google car

Ray is reluctant at first to believe it, but when the image suddenly disappears from the web 24 hours later, Ray is forced to go into New York and find the apartment. He discovers that it’s empty since the occupants left unexpectedly a couple of months previously, but that someone is still paying the rent. His interest in the apartment brings him to the attention of an ex-cop who’s a fixer for the campaign manager of the district attorney for the state of New York as well as a failed Olympic gymnast turned hit woman.  So can Ray and Thomas find proof that the camera never lies and find and why someone wants it to.

For me Barclay, a former columnist with the Toronto daily Star, has Linwood Barclaya hit and miss record regarding his previous five stand alone books which don’t feature the science fiction writer turned P.I. Zack Walker. I read “No Time For Goodbye” which was a real page turner and a bestseller. His third stand alone thriller “Fear the Worst” was also a taught page turner, but his second one “Too Close To Home”, had me losing interest and putting it down after the first 50 pages. Also, the blurb on the backs of his fourth and fifth books, “Never Look Away” and “The Accident”, didn’t grab me and gave me the inclination that they were just retreads of a well worn route.

While the whole premise of “Trust Your Eyes”, had me chomping at the bit and really fired my imagination as to where it would take the reader, being both bang up to date and a plot that hasn’t been used as a storyline in print, film or TV yet. I was a little let down, mainly because the skill Thomas has – being able to memorize the maps of whole cities – is used in the last quarter of the book when there were plenty of other opportunities and plot devices which could have had him using this unique trait  to better effect.  Also there’s a child abuse storyline which meanders in and out of the book, for no real reason only to end up being a distraction. As to the revelation of how their father died on the last page, again I didn’t really care, because it too comes across as a something missed in the editing process.

The Two main characters were believable, while a budding romance between Ray and Julie, a girl he went to school with limps along with her character. This too in the end seems to serve very little purpose. The use of a failed Olympian as hit woman is something I liked. God if they turned this into a movie maybe they’d give her Oscar Pistorious type blades. She could become a spin-off character, only for the slight problem that Barclay kills her off. Although that never stopped producers before as the words “inspired by the characters…” can reincarnate any stone cold character.

So if you‘re looking to for an original technically inspired novel .This book will do the job, just try not to get lost in the numerous other loose and confusing stories running through it. Personally I hope they adapt it for film and develop the story a bit.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)



Best exotic marigld hotlAccording to Shakespeare there are seven ages of man, you may not be aware of the whole poem of the same name, but you’ll know one of its oft quoted lines, “All the worlds a stage and all its men and women merely players..”, from “As You Like It“. According to the poem, the sixth stage is old age, “the sixth stage shifts into lean and slippered pantaloon. With spectacles on nose and pouch on side…. A world too wide for his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice turning again to towards childish treble…”  This stage is something we’ll all experience eventually. The sixth age is also the theme of last month’s book group selection. The book is known by two titles; originally it was “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach. But after the release of the hugely successful film adaptation, all subsequent printed copies of the book were renamed, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

The book tells the story of a group of pensioners who take up the opportunity to live out their remaining years away from the cold British weather, the high cost of living and the deterioration of society and the values of old. For the warmer and less economically challenged climbs of a new Indian retirement home. The book follows their new lives and their adjustment to the totally alien cultures and experiences.

The-best-exotic film pster

The film which features a cast of such British acting heavyweights as Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. Tells the story of a group of pensioners who travel to a brand spanking new retirement home in Jaipur, only to discover on arrival that it is far from the glamorous claims and pictures of the brochure and on the verge of closure. So they set about turning its fortunes around while finding romance and new lives in the diverse and developing cultures and economy of India.

As a rule I never read a book after I’ve seen the film adaptation first. I’ll go see a film adaptation after reading a book, just to see how the writer and director interpreted it; because a film is never as good as how your imagination pictures the story.  In this case the book was never going to be as good as the movie. It’s rather slow and the characters lives before they go to India are quite interesting, but once they arrive things just tick over and the stories really go nowhere. I and most of the other members of the book group had seen the film beforehand and where always trying to picture the characters from the film in the book, but alas we couldn’t. If you hadn’t seen the film before reading the book it would stand alone as an alternate story.

This is not to take away from the fact that Moggach is an excellent Deb Moggachwriter, who has written twenty books which include seventeen novels and 3 collections of short stories. She’s also an acclaimed scriptwriter who is responsible for the screenplay of the BBC Drama “Pride and Prejudice”, starring Colin Firth. She’s adapted four of her own books for TV, as well as the “The Diary of Anne Frank”, a Nancy Mitford novel and an Anne Fine novel. Surprisingly, whilst she did adapt a screenplay for “These Foolish Things” , it was Ol Parker’s version that was finally used and I can see why. Moggach has lead an interesting life which includes living in Pakistan, as well as campaigning for the change in the law regarding Assisted Suicide, following her mothers imprisonment for assisting a terminally ill friend take their life.

So my advice is, if your feeling your age and looking for something to pick yourself up, don’t reach for this book. But go out and rent the film, as they say laughter is the best medicine. This is certainly the tonic and may also convince you to add a trip to India to your “bucket list”. Where as this book should be consigned to your own personal room 101.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)



GONE_GIRLAccording to the Missing Persons Bureau in the UK 200,000 people went missing in England between 2009 and 2010. In Ireland 8,511 people were reported missing in 2011. While in the US, the FBI received 661,593 missing person reports, in 2012. There are various reasons why people go missing, but do we ever really understand what those reasons are and what happens to those who are left behind?  This month’s book states that there are two sides to every story; the book is Gillian Flynn’s, Gone Girl.

Gone Girl is this years most talked about work of fiction, in much the same respects as Fifty Shades was last year’s, except with out the sex and titillation. This is the former TV critic’s third novel following on from her 2006 debut, Sharp Objects and the 2009 book Dark Places.

Gone Girl is the story of a married couple Amy and Nick Dunne, who seem to have everything. Amy is the daughter of famous novelists and the inspiration for a series of “Amazing Amy” children’s books. While Nick is an ex newspaper columnist, who after losing his job in NYC, convinces Amy to move to his sleepy home town of Carthage, Missouri after his Sister Margo or  “Go” calls for help in looking after their Alzheimer afflicted father. Nick invests some of the couple’s (Amy’s trust fund) money into buy a bar with his sister. Everything’s going well until the day of their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy just disappears. All the clues lead to a violent abduction and the distinct possibility that Amy is lying dead somewhere. The two local detectives, Boney and Gilpin, start working the case and very soon they have a suspect, thanks to some very incriminating clues. But is Nick the Killer? Is Amy dead? Or is there a more sinister game being played by someone and is that game revenge no matter what the cost?

USA - Portraiture - Gillian Flynn

The book tells the story through the eyes of Nick in real time and Amy in the past tense from her Diary. For the first 200 pages, I found myself skimming through the Amy’s chapters to get back to Nick’s real time description of events, as I thought Amy’s diary distracted from a good murder mystery.

I felt sorry for Nick, but I often wanted to slap him for being an idiot at times too, but more then anything else he’s a well written character who is believable from the get go. Then bang! On 214 pages and nearly halfway through, Flynn hits you with a ‘curve ball’ out of ‘left field’. You’re immediately left scrambling to adjust to the pace and direction of the story from there on in. It was then I realised why everyone was jumping up and down and raving about this book.

As for Amy, I found her whiney, selfish, introverted and irritating.  By the end of the book, I’d have taken a shovel or shotgun to her myself.  She reminded me of a couple of women I know, one in particular who makes me and other members of my close circle seethe with fury. The other characters in the book are glossed over; the only one who really stuck with me was Nick’s sister “Go”, who I envisaged as looking like Kathy Bates. Her relationship with Nick is portrayed excellently; she is his only support, even when he cocks up. Otherwise Carthage and its various inhabitants’ come across as your regular bunch of mid-western small town inhabitants.

If anything, the book reminded me of the Kathleen Turner, Michael Pike nd AfleckDouglas movie “War of the Roses”, but this book takes that premise to the whole new level. Talking of movies, there is a movie adaptation in pre-production as I write. Set for release in 2015, with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike signed up the play the lead roles.

This book does for missing persons what Emma Donoghue’s – “Room”, does for abductees. It brings you inside the mind and suffering of those left behind. More importantly, what a husband goes through because as we know; they’re the number one suspect in all these cases, until proven innocent or until they break under damning evidence. It also highlights the warped and rather dark side of certain individuals and how deep down even the most grounded relationships can eventually take their toll on those at the centre. It asks the question; do you ever really know the person you live with?

So my advice would be, run out and get this book. But while you do that, you might want to pick up a stab vest and a secure lock for the spare bedroom door. We all have secrets, and harbour the odd bad thought about our loved ones, but you never really know how dark and devious theirs are. You also may want to heed the warning on  the inside cover of this book, “Marriage can be a real killer…

(first published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)



100 namesA list of one hundred names is found in the files of a dead journalist, no one knows why the list has been compiled and none of the people on the list knows why they are on it or what connects them to each other. It’s up to a down on their luck investigative journalist to discover the truth, is it something sinister? The only person who knows is the daughter of a disgraced politician. Sound like the plot for a highly charged thriller? If Grisham, Patterson or one of the new batch of rising Swedish writers had gone to their publishers with it, they’d be biting their hands off to get it completed and published. But it’s not as it seems, the only part that’s true of the above is the daughter of a disgraced Irish politician, yep it’s the synopsis of Cecilia Ahern’s latest book One Hundred Names.

Kitty Logan’s best friend, boss and mentor Constance Dubois, is in the final throes of  her battle against cancer. When she asks her protégé to find a list in her office and tell their story. What kitty finds is a list of one hundred names and that’s it, no clue as to what the story is or why Constance had kept these names. But Kitty also has her own problems, she’s just been fired from her job on the national TV station in Ireland after she wrongfully accused a school teacher of having an affair, now someone’s targeting her flat with dog pooh and graffiti, which isn’t making her long term rental prospects look promising. On top of that her boyfriend has moved out and she’s getting it in the ear from her friends and being used and abused by other so called friends.

As for the list she can only get a small number of them to talk to her and they each have very differing stories and backgrounds. There’s Cecelia Ahern, Schriftstellerinan elderly lady cast aside by her family who plans to claim a bet placed years ago, a young woman who’s a carer for her invalided mother while also offering makeovers to the terminally ill. Then there’s a ex-con who thinks he hears peoples prayers, a woman who runs a butterfly farm but is too shy to accept an invite to address a group of fellow Lepidopterists from around the world, a couple who are forever blagging free meals and drinks by pretending to propose to each other as well as a two of immigrants who want to get into the Guinness book of records for being the fastest two men in a pedalo. Eventually this ragtag bunch and kitty head off on a mad cap road trip. While all along Kitty’s  editor on the monthly magazine that Constance ran is pressurizing her with a deadline, to write these stories as a  tribute piece to her late friend. Can she do it?

I have to hand it to Cecelia; she’s gone from strength to strength since writing P.S. I Love you in 2004. Followed up with a movie deal and a reasonably successful American sitcom,  as well as the subsequent eight other books she’s written. All along she’s tried to avoid the moniker of “Chic Lit” Author. But with this outing it is nothing more then a jog down a well worn “Chic-lit” path.

The title it’s self is misleading as she never even goes near one hundred names, eight is the most. So why she didn’t call it ten names – fifty names. In my view I think she bit off more than she could chew but her editor thought ah, 100 sounds interesting. Yes it does, but at least have Kitty  interact with half the names on the list.

pedaloAs for the stories of the eight, they’re plausible to an extent. I couldn’t see any self respecting immigrant or native for that matter trying to break a 100m pedalo dash for the Guinness book of records. Okay so people do some strange things to get mentioned in the fabled book, but a pedalo dash.

Then there’s the couple who go around different bars and restaurants faking grandiose proposals to gain free meals and drinks. this would irritate me in real life and did so in the book. Okay so their story is all about the girl in the partnership who longs for the proposal to be real for once, but they just came across as shallow.

As I write, Film adaptations of two of her other books have just finished shooting in Ireland, I love Rosie – based on her novel Where Rainbows End and Romantic Road an original TV script. I hope to god they’ve made a better interpretation of Where rainbows end then they did of P.S. I Love You.

ps i love u pster

So if you’re an ardent fan of Cecelia, then anything I say is not going to dissuade you from parting with your cash for this book, otherwise take my advice go read or watch John Buchan’s  The Thirty Nine Steps , Jules Verne’s  Around The World in 80 Days  or The Forty Five Guardsmen by Dumas.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2013)



eucalyptus cvrI’m not much of a gardener.I’ll cut the grass and at a real push, when the whim takes me, I’ll trim the edges of the lawn but usually it’s a quick run around with the Flymo. My partner is the green fingered type. I like to walk through well maintained gardens in large stately homes, when they’re open to the public – both here and in the UK. Also, I’ll listen to gardening experts answering queries on the radio, or the likes of Alan Titchmarsh and his team swooping into to someone’s lost cause of a backyard and turning it into an idyllic paradise- that’s all grand. However, reading gardening books is a real no, no. So, when last months book group choice was Eucalyptus by Murray Bail, I was temped to run for the potting shed to sample some home brew.

Murray Bail is Australian. No one else could or would, want to write a book solely dedicated to the humble Eucalyptus tree. This is his fourth book of fiction after The Drovers Wife and Other StoriesHomesickness and Holden’s PerformanceEucalyptus tells the story of a man called Holland who buys a large farm in the outback after the previous owners die. After a while his young daughter Ellen joins him from Sydney, he goes about the vast property planting every type of eucalyptus tree there is, and after a number of years when his daughter is coming of age he sets a challenge. He will give Ellen’s hand to any man who can name all the Eucalypti on the farm, of which there are hundreds.

Author Murray Bail at his Potts Point apartment.

Many come from all over the country and abroad, but in the end one man arrives, a middle aged expert by the name of Mr. Cave. He and Holland set about the challenge under the watchful eye of Ellen, who is not that enamoured with the thought of having to marry the very knowledgeable but dour Mr. Cave. As the days and weeks go by and Mr Cave slowly but confidently whittles the list down, a mysterious young man  appears to Ellen around the  farm, entrancing her with tales of  faraway places and eventually forcing her into a deep despair over the looming prospect of marrying Mr Cave, while her heart yearns for this elusive stranger.

Initially the constant referencing of various types of Eucalyptus tree and their background at the start of each chapter, of which there are thirty nine. Is a bit off putting, but vivid story telling and wonderful a style of writing employed  by Bail whisks you very quickly to the parched dusty outback, bit like my garden in this extreme summer we’re having. If like me you’ve grown up with Australian soaps, like Flying Doctors and A Country Practice and seen films such as Australia and A Town Like Alice or Rabbit Proof Fence. Then you’ll know where we’re talking about.

Unlike the other recent Auzzie literary phenomenon The Slap, this doesn’t challenge  your social conscience. This, on the other koalahand is a lovely story, which is basically a modern day Australian fairy-tale  although being set in the forties and fifties, it isn’t that modern. By the time you near the end you are enveloped in the story and almost miss the twist.

Yes this book is all about Eucalyptus trees and apart from the four main characters, they’re the main anchor for this story. Before this book, the only thing I knew about them was that they’re the staple diet of the koala bear. Now I know that the word “Eucalyptus” comes from the Greek for “Well” and “Covered“, and that they come in all shapes and sizes and colours. The Cider Gum is blue, while Eucalyptus Salmonophloia (The Salmon Gum) is named because of its pink bark. There are lots of other pieces of incidental information about the trees, too numerous to list here.

cider gumSo my advice is get an old wide-brimmed hat, attach some corks to it with string, raid the local wine store for some lovely Australian merlot or some “Tinnies” and settle down in your balmy back garden for a heart warming read.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  July 2013)




Handmaid cvrHaving read and reviewed, last years much hyped and talked about Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not the least bit shocked by any type of gratuitous sex in modern literature. That’s not to say that memorable sex acts won’t stay with me after I’ve read a book. This is the case in this month’s book, Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale. The act in question isn’t even anything out of the ordinary, or gratuitous, more comical and that’s why it stayed with me because, it’s the only real thing that’s sticks out in a rather bland and dated book.

The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1986 and is what some would call a dystopian novel. Set in North America after a great war sometime in the future. A young woman called Offred is a handmaid in the new Republic of Gilead and the handmaid’s role is to breed and move from one Commander to the next after they have conceived a child for him and their aging wives. Failure to do so, for whatever reason, will result in a slow but certain death by hanging at the city wall. The government and President in Washington have been ruthlessly killed and over thrown. The country is now being run by right-wing Christians, who hark back to more traditional values.  They are a bit like the Amish (except in Atwood’s society they drive cars and use electricity). Despite all the repressive laws put in place in by the authorities, even subjecting the handmaids to wear different coloured smocks to highlight their place in society and forcing them to take singular names all beginning with “Off”, Offred still finds time for her memories of the life she used to live with her husband and daughter. She also enters unintentionally into two dangerous liaisons, with her commander and his driver. These, if detected, will lead to her death or transportation to the radiation devastated colonies.

This book maybe twenty seven years old but a lot of the stuff Atwood was writing about was on the cusp and also in the early margaret-atwoodstages of development. For example, every piece of technology is called “compu” this or “compu” that. Apple, Microsoft or Atari were all alive and kicking in 1986 and so I find it hard to believe that following an apocalyptic event like a nuclear war, we’d lose all imagination with regards to naming technology – yes, supposedly this society has regressed. But even today, when some of the more moderate Amish communities use ATM’s and other technologies they don’t re-brand them. Then there’s the idea that as a result of the war, there’d be a shortage of young women and also the effect of radiation on men, we would  require a state sponsored surrogacy regime, when back in 1986 IVF was an available form of conception for couples who were unable to have children naturally.

The sex act I referred to at the start is in all senses a threesome of sorts, the hand maids are impregnated in what can only be described as a convoluted and uncomfortable act whereby the commanders wife lies on her back, legs akimbo. The handmaid lies back between them and the commander goes about things as normal. The image this conjures up raises a smile midway through the book. But again you have to wonder how backward a fundamentalist state would go to decree that this sort of shenanigans should be the norm. Although if recent figures from the World Health Organisation for Female Genital Mutilation is anything to go by Atwood isn’t far off the mark on this point.

Redmpterist Sisters

In another aspect of the book, I get a hint of where Atwood may have got the inspiration for the uniforms the Handmaids wear that differentiate them from the other types of women in society, such as the Martha’s who act as servants in the different Commanders households. The Martha’s colour is dull green, while the handmaids wear a heavy red smock with white head piece that has large wings  to restrict their view of the world. While reading the book I saw a picture on a calendar in my mother’s house of a couple of Redemptorist nuns at last years International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The Redemptorist nuns wear a red habit with white borders and whilst some have blue too, predominately the colour is red. This image helped me visualise the characters in the book more clearly.

There are some parts of the book that give rise to the theory that Suzanne Collins may have used it for inspiration for The Hunger Games. Things, such as the Storm Trooper like guardians who enforce the laws and large gatherings like the Salvaging where new handmaids are selected and punishment is meted out.

Hhndmaid mvie trailerBack in 1990 the book was adapted into a movie with a stellar cast that includes the late Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Aidan Quinn. So instead of wasting your time reading a rather tame and dated book about convoluted female emancipation and reproductive procedures in the future, spend 90 minutes watching it.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)



A week in DecmbrIf you’re familiar with Ralph McTell then you’ll know in 1969 he took us by the hand and led us through the streets of London. After that, others such as Cliff Richard, Sinead O’Connor and Roger Whittaker, have also led us through the fabled streets of the English capital, while covering the song.

In 2006 Maeve Binchy took us under London’s fog bound streets in Victoria Line, Central Line. Re-titled London Transports for our unimaginative yankee cousins, who couldn’t get their heads around the simple title of a book set on the London train network. Americans obviously don’t read the blurb on the back of books! Then in 2010, the best selling author Sebastian Faulks, decided we needed to spend ‘A Week in December’ on the London underground.

This is the novel my book group was presented with for March, as the self explanatory title states this book has us spending the third week in December following the lives of seven characters (ahem), whose lives are all connected by the central line on the London underground.  There’s John Veals, a hedge fund manager trying to make a quick killing on the markets, while Vic line Cent Linedestroying the world economy in the process; Tadeusz “Spike” Borowski, an eastern european professional footballer finding his feet in the premiership; Gabriel Northwood, a young barrister trying to get over the memories of an old flame; Hassan Al Rashid, a student being radicalised by an Islamist faction; Roger Tranter, a book reviewer hoping to win a major literary prize. Also John Veal’s son Finbar, a drug and reality TV addicted school boy and finally the character that links them together, Jenni Fortune, a train driver on the central line getting over a suicide involving her train and who worries about her out of work brother.

Faulks may have been trying to copy the success of Binchy’s book. What he ended up doing was producing a rather messy attempt. How?  Well, Binchy’s book, like her previous compilation of short stories, ‘The Lilac Bus’, set on a rural bus route in Ireland, had each of the characters stories nicely rounded into a chapter each or as in the case of ‘Central Line, Victoria Line’, set around a particular stop on the tube line. Faulks has his stories clumsily chopped and intermingled all over the place  as the days progress so that just as you get into one story it jumps to another and you have to remember what’s happening.

The blurb on the back, said the book follows seven characters. Well each of these actually have four or five others who interact regularly and distract from the story and get large chunks of  chapters dedicated to them, a couple prime examples are Sophie Topping and her husband Lance, a recently elected local MP and rising political star. Their sole aim seems to be hosting a dinner party at the end of the week at which four of the characters will attend along with a gaggle of others, who just seem to exist as page fillers.

Then there’s the uneven allocation of space, with lots of space given over to certain characters and not enough to others. Veal’s story for example, takes up almost half the book and if Faulks had put his mind to it, he could have got a full novel out of this character. While Borowski the soccer play gets at most ten pages of story all the way through the book, his story, like that of Veal’s son Finbar, rather limps through the book with no real conclusion. The same goes for that of Hassan, the English born Muslim kid being radicalised. Here again, is another ideal opportunity to write a rather enthralling and taut full length thriller. But as the narrative leads  up to the bombing of a fictional London hospital, (Which is being targeted  for no apparent reason, other than it is full of white people), where a number of the other characters have  found themselves in the course of every day life, it whimpers out to nothing when Hassan gets second thoughts.

The nicest story of the whole book is that of the blossoming love affair between Jenni Fortune and Gabriel Northwood. Gabriel is representing Transport For London, the company who run the underground. In a case brought by the suicide victim’s family. we are led nicely through their relationship over the course of the seven days which, in anyone’s book is a whirlwind romance to say the least, then just as you get that funny warm feeling for the two characters and happy that they are finding true love… the book ends, leaving the reader hanging. What happens next? Do they live happily ever after? This again is a theme through the book, with most of the stories, they stop dead; with no epilogue as to what happens after midnight on the Saturday when the dinner party ends… We never know whether Veal’s deal goes through…

This is what keeps the reader turning the pages, the expectancy of what might happen. One classic technique used by Faulks is that of a mysterious cyclist dressed in black with no lights on their bike who speeds along the pavement forcing each of the characters to jump out of his or her way. But again, this individual appears to have no role in the book except to nearly run down all the characters.


These characters are here to be lampooned and it came out at the discussion in the book group that the sole aim of this book was for Faulks to “have a go” at these types of people. He seemingly hates wealthy financial types who play risky games with our money to line their own nests; book critics (Oh well, I’ll be in the next book, represented as an online faceless blogger!) and  cyclists who speed around pavements with no lights on.

So all in all, you’re getting the picture that I was not impressed by A Week in December. This isn’t the first time I’ve read a Sebastian Faulks book. I read his 2008 James bond novel Devil May Care, commissioned by the Ian Fleming Foundation to commemorate the writer’s 100th birthday.  I was rather disappointed, after reading Fleming’s books and the follow-on series by John Gardner. Faulks’ attempt was a lack lustre affair with no memorable storyline and very little in the way of gadgets or excitement, which Fleming and Gardner had delivered on and which the film going public had grown up with over on the past 25 years.

Seb faulksSo I’m not surprised by how this Faulks book turned out. Take my advice-‘mind the gaps’ in the story-telling and miss this stop to avoid the over crowded platform or if you haven’t done so already, change here for Binchy’s Victoria Line, Central Line.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)



Sng of AchillesThe Greeks have always been seen as leaders in the world, the inventors of things which are now so intrinsically a part of society. Whether it is the Olympics, mathematics, psychology, geometry, science, medicine, democracy, astronomy, language, coinage, Macedonian calendar, the list goes on. Even today as I write this piece, the Greeks and their Cypriot cousins are at the forefront of European fiscal instability.

Before all that though, there was one thing we have that they gave us, which every country has in its own unique way. But Greek Mythology is read and recognized across the globe. We’ve all heard of and maybe read all or parts of the Greek Iliad and Odyssey. If you haven’t, why haven’t you? Maybe you didn’t realize you were reading Greek history? Well, now here’s a great opportunity to get into it in an easy way. In 2011 Madeline Miller wrote her debut novel The Song of Achilles and in 2012 it went on to win the Orange Prize for Fiction beating a shortlist which included such household names as Irish author, Anne Enright and American author, Ann Pachett, who’d previously won the competition ten years earlier.

The book tells the story of Patroclus a shy prince who is exiled from his father’s kingdom after murdering the son of a courtier in apparent self defence. He strikes up a friendship with Achilles the heir to the throne  of the kingdom he has been sent to in disgrace. Achilles is the son of a mortal father, King Pelus and the sea goddess Thetis. Realising that unlike him, not every Greek prince is interested in fighting, he takes Patrolus under his wing, much to the disapproval of his mother. Achilles then is sent up into the hills to be tutored by the centaur Chiron and it is here that Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship develops. Then the Trojans kidnap Helen of Sparta and Achilles must go to war with his reluctant consort in tow. The war will test their relationship and fulfil a prophecy and their destiny.

This book is a fantastic read, a real page turner from start to finish. If I had to describe it in one sentence, it’s Brokeback Mountain in Greece. They basically go up a mountain as young boys and come down men and lovers. In ancient Greek this type of socially acceptable relationship was known as “pederasty“. Although if the thought of reading a book that describes in detail the pseudo erotic ways of the Greeks back then, maybe you should steer clear. However, we are well aware the way they did things back then. The body was honoured and toned – you oiled it up regularly and went wrestling or running with just a loin cloth on and bare feet. Sex was encouraged and like the Romans they indulged in orgies and didn’t really care whether you loved men, women or both.

Times were different back then, hence the term a “Greek Achilles & PatroclusTragedy“, death was always at the fore front of the stories, the taking of life whether it was justified or innocent was a norm and in this book there is nothing different. In an earlier book group discussion about Rendezvous with Rama I stated that for that type of genre it was unusual for no one to die. Well in this story the body count starts well before page fifty and climbs steadily after that, not just men and soldiers, but women and young girls are sacrificed.

As for the characters in this book, the only ones who really matter are Patroclus, Achilles and his mother Thetis, who comes across as your archetypal mother in-law always interfering in things that don’t involve her, but this is ancient Greece and the gods have to have a hand in everything. If this was a pantomime she’d be a cross between the Ugly Sister and the Wicked Witch of the West and all the way through the book, I felt like shouting, “She’s behind you!!!“. Her role only goes to support my view that if this was a modern story Achilles would come across as real mummies boy.

There are two things that go against the book, the first is what appears to be the glaring inaccuracy of Achilles’ death, everyone whose anyone knows that your “Achilles heel” is your weak point, a chink in your armour so to speak and the term derives from Achilles being killed by an Arrow to his heel which was his weak point. But according to Miller’s book, it was an arrow that pierced his armour, not his heel. Secondly the ending of this book is a bit of a let down, it’s rather Disney-esque. As the final pages are narrated by Patroclus in spirit form and describes how after his death Achilles wanted to be buried with Patroclus, but his son Pyrrhus refuses. Suddenly a page later Thetis moves from in front of the tomb where Achilles ashes are buried and there on the headstone is both their names where before it had just been Achilles.

Prompting discord … The Song of Achilles author Madeline Miller.

This book is a work of faction; Miller has a BA and MA in Latin and Ancient Greek so sense she knows what she’s talking about. This is an abridged version of Homers Iliad of sorts and more or less tells the story or a facet of those books. As to Whether Achilles and Patroclus where really lovers is an ongoing dispute among experts, what I can tell you is that these three hundred and fifty pages of Greek influence will not threaten your long-term bank balance.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2013)



lst man in towerYou’re probably not too familiar with the Sahitya Akademi or its numerous literary awards. It’s India’s national academy of letters, established in 1954, with the aim of promoting Indian literature and its twenty four languages, including English.  In the past couple of years original Indian literature and Indian based literature has been pushed onto the international stage with the adaptations of Vikas Swarups ‘Q&A’ by Danny Boyle into ‘Slumdog Millionaire and Deborah Moggach’s, ‘These Foolish Things’ into ‘The Best Little Marigold Hotel’. In 2008, India’s literary industry was given a welcome boost internationally when Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, ‘The White Tiger won the Booker Prize.

Adiga’s third novel,’ Last Man in Tower was published in 2011. Set in the thriving metropolis of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) it follows the residents of an aging tower block who are caught up in the development boom taking place in the city, when they are offered a lottery winning sum to sell their apartments to a local developer. But there’s a catch. Every member of the block or society must agree or the deal will fall through. They’ve all lived together in the same building for years and their lives have become interlinked. But when a number of them refuse to sell, led by Yogesh A. Murthy, a retired school teacher and widower known as “Masterji”, friendships start to break down and friends and neighbours stoop to new levels of depravity to find out whose agreed and who’s holding out. In the end it’s the whole block against Masterji. Will he finally give in and sign or will it take a little bit more persuasion?

The story itself it’s not a new one. Walt Disney’s, “Herbie Rides Again” gave the same theme a rather funny run in the 1974 film with Ken Berry and Stephanie Powers. Although in Last Man in Tower, Adiga’s excellent narrative of the hustle and bustle of every day life in the over populated city is fantastic and you can actually feel yourself immersed in the hot sweaty routine of Indian life.


As for the main character Masterji, he initially comes across as a poor elderly gent being bullied out of the apartment he’s shared with his late wife and family for years. Then, as the story moves on you realise there’s no real reason for his not biting the developer Dahmen Shah’s hand off like his neighbours, except bloody-minded stubbornness. It’s easy to see Shah cast as the big greedy land grabbing baddie of the piece, but in the end he is a man of his word. If there’s an untrustworthy character it’s his “left hand man” Shanmugham.

Any book that requires two pages at the front of it to identify the avrind adigacharacters in the story is heading for trouble. Ok, so you get to realise rather quickly the main characters are Masterji and his neighbours the Pintos but then another twenty characters move in and out of the story on a regular basis, requiring you to stop and think: who is he, she, they? It does become a bit annoying after a while.

The book is a bit of a tome, with its four hundred pages, into which nine books are crammed in much the same way as the residents of the building it’s written about.  I liked the overall story; it reads easily enough despite the linguistic gymnastics caused by the names and is well worth a read.

(First Published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)