Review of small press and independent books.
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by Bruce French
published by Vanguard Press (2009)
Review by Nigel Humphreys
Like the very successful television sitcom Gavin and Stacey, Bruce Frenchís first novel achieves a chiaroscuro effect by splitting the scenarios of the interaction between Wales and the more urbane south-east of England; that is to say, between a small unnamed but identifiable coastal town in West Wales and London. James Ensor, dysfunctionally aided by his Essex-girl PA Sidonia Fantoni, run a small Art Gallery in the capital through which they separately manage the paintings of chancer and freeloader Alan Reardon, and Norma Wilding. Norma, enduring a barren period following a breakdown, lives with her sister Jane in The Old Mill House in Abermadog in the principality. The plot, which is largely character driven, hinges on the fact that some of her early work, in a style she has grown to despise and which is left discarded in a barn, is now much prized by the Japanese. To the frustration of the gallery she refuses to sell, though itís never made quite clear why. Enter struggling layabout artist Alan Reardon, who makes it his mission in life to renew his acquaintance with Norma in order to surreptitiously cash in on the oriental demand for her work. He travels down from London and invites himself into the sisterís rural retreat, immediately putting himself on a collision course with her protective sister, Jane.
Reardonís machinations to spirit the paintings away under the sistersí noses and persuade Ensor to sell them are of secondary interest to the mounting tension within the small holding. The staunch character of Jane provides the touchstone against which the male characters come off badly. It is important that the novelist makes her character convincing and I think he does. While lacking endearing qualities she is not unlikeable. Norma, too, is handled well as the temperamental and blinkered, binge drinking artist fresh from her breakdown. I get a good sense of her. Less convincing are the feckless men, and Ms Fantoni tends towards caricature on occasions.
The style is very accessible tending to the demotic at times, and therefore pleasantly undemanding allowing the narrative to flow unrestricted. We are left in no doubt about the qualities of the four principle characters and the dialogue is well handled though perhaps on occasions unnecessarily colourful to tiresome effect. On the down side there are too many rhetorical questions occasioned by over-expansive soul-searching for my taste. These sections do tend to slow the action. Also the novel would have benefited from a more liberal helping of spice to satisfy the modern taste and justify the title,(the squeezed form of which works well as an eye-catcher). But the plot is original and well handled, and the denouement unanticipated. The balance of action between Wales and London is spot on.
Lovesexmoneydeath is a good read. I enjoyed it.
Last edited by Nigel Humphreys (2010-01-02 12:40:50)