In 1990, I was in the first year of a two-year Media studies course in Dublin. On a regular basis the class was allowed to attend press showings, of soon to be released films, so we could practice writing reviews. In October of that year the film we were sent to review was Philip Kaufman’s movie Henry and June. Based loosely on the book of the same name by Anais Nin, both of which tell the story of French author Nin’s tempestuous affair with salacious American author Henry Miller, while he was living in Paris between 1930-1939. That was my first introduction to Miller, through my background research on him, Nin and his wife June. I’ve since relised i’ve not got around to reading any of his forty books, most notably Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Like most good things of that era, that challenged social norms, a number of them were banned. So, I was very surprised to discover that Mr Miller is one of the main characters in this month’s book review, the book is The Girl, The Crow, The Writer and The Fighter by George Paterson and published by Into Books (www.intocreative.co.uk) on the 21st October.
In 1965 provocative author Henry Miller is taken incognito to an infamous title fight. In the turbulent aftermath of the bout, Miller is forced to battle his way through the melee to rendezvous with the keeper of a tightly guarded secret. Twenty years later a young Maine waitress, May Morgenstern is bequeathed a collection of bound letters by an elderly patron. The correspondence she quickly discovers are between Miller and her late friend and recounts how Miller was accused of the murder in Paris, then asked by a French criminal gang to take a valuable African plate back to the United States, while avoiding the attention of a rival criminal gang lead by a man known as “The Crow”. Miller is left for dead in the Mediterranean and recuperates on Corfu, only returning to the states just after the war. Yyars later, he and future heavyweight champion Sonny Liston find themselves again being coerced into to completing the mission. Can they finally get the plate to its original destination, or now all these years later does May have a role in this unfinished escapade…?
This isn’t the first time I’ve read a work of fiction featuring a real life personality in the lead, previously one of our book club choices a number of years ago was The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, based on Errol Flynn’s time in Jamaica. That was an absorbing and inventive read which weaved together historical facts about Flynn’s life and his time on the island. Again, Paterson’s book takes large well documented historical parts of Miller’s eventful and alcohol fuelled life and marries them with a very believable plot.
At times you get the feeling you are reading two books merged into one, what with the large chunk of the 395 pages taken up with the supposed italicised letters from Miller, and the modern-day ramifications which have a bearing on May’s life. But overall, I found the story recanted in the letters humours and an enjoyable to read, which showed us that Paterson had gone into a lot of in-depth research to keep it as close to the truth as possible.
If I had any issues with the book, they were minor, such as thinking it was slightly over long and there was a lot of characters to keep track of, which made me think that Paterson had veered slightly into the area a lot of debutant authors make, in trying to cram too much into their first book. Some readers might find the large swathes of italicised correspondence off putting, but the overall storytelling and the sense that he got Miller’s personality down to a tee, is what makes this book an enjoyable read.
This Scottish author, Musician and DJ, George Paterson’s (@gfpaterson) debut novel. As a member of the bands White and DMP, he released several well received albums on the Poco Alto label. His musical work can also be found in a few independent feature length and short films, as well as providing musical backing to the London stage play ‘ISM’. Over the past four years his focus has been split between the spoken word – with his weekly radio show ‘Lost in Music’ and written work appearing in online publications, before finding a permanent home as a regular features writer and reviewer at INTO creative.
So, if you a fan of miller or just fancy reading an enjoyable salute to the man’s hedonistic and colourful life, then go online and order a copy. Better still support your local bookshop and while adhering to all covid restrictions, go down in person and pick up a copy and join May, Henry, Sonny and a host of interesting characters on rambunctious journey across the decades.
Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought it, read theiur blogs klisted below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what yopu thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.