Here are a couple of interesting books that I’ve reviewed recently for We Love This Book.
Andrew Blackman, A Virtual Love (2013)
Jeff Brennan is an IT consultant with a knack for showing different faces to the world as circumstances require.
When he tags along on one of his friend Marcus’s environmental protests, he meets the beautiful Marie, who assumes Jeff must be a celebrated but reclusive political blogger also named Jeff Brennan, whom she admires. Jeff is only too happy to play along, and as the pair’s relationship develops his deceptions grow ever more desperate. To make matters even more complicated, Marcus is leaning on Jeff for favours in exchange for keeping his secret; and the other Jeff Brennan decides to find out who this Marie is who keeps leaving him flirtatious comments.
Andrew Blackman’s second novel is a fine study of identity and deception at the point where the online and offline worlds intersect. Blackman shows how Jeff treats lying to Marie as just another way of selectively creating a persona, and ends up digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole as a result. The novel tells a compelling story, but also reflects seriously on the nature of identity in the modern world. Jeff is not the only character to manipulate perceptions of themselves: Marie tidies up her online presence for him, and isn’t such an attractive personality to everyone.
The characters of Jeff’s grandparents serve as reminders that identities may be lost – with Arthur’s journalistic career long behind him, and Daisy’s very self taken by dementia – and as a means of comparing past and present. But perhaps Blackman’s smartest technique is to have all his narrators address their words to Jeff, so we never hear from him directly. Our impressions of him come from a distance, rather like the people taken in by his various personas – and the ‘real’ Jeff is lost among all the different versions of him.
(Visit the publisher, Legend Press.)
Daisy Hildyard, Hunters in the Snow (2013)
Daisy Hildyard’s debut is a patchwork novel about the patchwork nature of history.
The unnamed narrator returns to from London to rural Yorkshire to deal with the paperwork for the farm of her late grandfather, Jimmy – who was, like her, a historian. She reads Jimmy’s writings on four historical figures: Edward IV, Peter the Great, a former slave named Olaudah Equiano, and Lord Kitchener. Doing so sparks off the narrator’s memories, and those little stories intermingle with the broader sweep of history.
Hunters in the Snow is built to emphasise that what we may think of as history is partial, has been put together from fragments, and can be shaped towards different ends. Jimmy’s four accounts include acts of deception, in both events themselves and in their chronicling. Historical and more novelistic styles of writing merge and gain equal weight, as do the different kinds of stories being told. Jimmy has a magpie interest in history, and plenty of thoughts on its nature. As Hildyard’s afterword indicates, even the novel itself has been assembled from bits and pieces of haphazard research.
A downside of this approach is that Hunters in the Snow can sometimes feel like too much of a grab-bag, its ideas a bit too diffused because there are so many at play. And there is a detached quality to the prose that doesn’t always sit well with the more personal moments. But the sheer breadth of Hildyard’s novel is wonderful to experience, and the reader is left with much to think about.
This is certainly one of the most distinctive novels I’ve read this year. Although it’s assembled from many sources, Hunters in the Snow speaks firmly with its own voice.
See my other reviews for We Love This Book here.