This week’s choices are a good opportunity to explore the definition of a Bristol novel. When I was crowd sourcing the books for my list, I tried to impose as few limits as possible so the long list could actually be long. There just aren’t that many works of fiction associated with Bristol.
I didn’t know whether having a Local author or setting or theme would be the appropriate criteria and I was open to going with whatever seemed right.
I ended up thinking that the novel itself had to represent Bristol culturally and physically. A Bristol novel wouldn’t just come from the domicile of the authors but would be the fictional space the city occupies in the creative world.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I left a book on the list because the author lived in Bristol and I didn’t check the setting.
Infinite Skies is a novel from the Young Adult genre, written by University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA alumnus Chelsey Flood. C.J. Flood is 29 and likes to work in the Bristol Central Library which also occupies a big part of my Bristol heart.
Unfortunately that’s about as Bristolian as the amble about Infinite Skies gets. Its protagonist Iris is 13 and her mother has just left their home to travel around and, presumably, find herself. Older brother Sam is struggling to cope and dad is having a hard time and it all gets worse when a group of travellers move in on the family’s land. The story is set near Derby and not in the south west at all.
Any kind of interest or suspense in the story is slowly killed off with the overwriting however and it feels like technique is prioritised, rather than used for effect, which is the wrong choice to make.
The characters are all likeable enough but the storyline is not strong enough to compel further reading.
I’m stealing from someone else when I say this but it’s relevant if not original: similes and metaphors are used to help the reader picture and understand a situation. With access to so much information, these days, the need for these literary techniques has been drastically reduced.
Flood fills most pages with constant description, similes and metaphors and when we finally got to a sunset looking like Chinese pork, I had to give up pretending I could stand it.
When each scene feels like a creative writing exercise then the story has taken second place.
Power of expression: 7/10
Bristol content: 0/15
Bristol integration: 0/15
Well written: 7/10
I am sad to say that Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending is this week’s winner because I disliked it, a lot. However it does have some Bristol content.
A group of boys form a friendship in high school, go off to separate universities, something a bit dramatic happens with friendships and girlfriends and that’s the end of part one.
Part two starts consists of our much older protagonist revisiting the past because of a discovery. He spends a lot of time being tedious on purpose, as he tells us. He has an unpleasant and judgemental ex-wife with who he is still friends.
He isn’t particularly likeable and he is forced to face an unpleasant letter he wrote as a young man when his girlfriend left him for one of his best friends. It seemed a perfectly reasonable time to be unpleasant, if you ask me. If you can’t be vile at that point in your life, when can you be?
The plot is very boring and I expect Barnes thought he was being clever by putting in an irrational and erratic ex-girlfriend to show off the unexpected behaviour in the past that our hero/non -hero was not even aware of. I found her behaviour in the end more than a bit ludicrous and pointless.
I had to force myself to finish it but there were two points which I quite liked. One, there was a good use of the Clifton Suspension Bridge as both a Bristol tourist spot and a theoretical suicide location; and two, in one of the literary bits, Barnes pontificates on a philosopher’s wish to a newborn baby, “May you lead a boring life,” and this resonated with me.
Barnes got his wish but it’s not much of one to bestow on a newly born piece of fiction. This is a boring book with barely a hero’s journey to speak of.
In 2011, The Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker prize but then Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize while keeping people locked up without charge in Guantanamo and killing more people while in power than Bush did. Awards are wrong all the time.
Power of expression: 5/10
Bristol content: 5/15
Bristol integration: 9/15
Well written: 6/10