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==About the author:==
Graham Joyce was born near Coventry in 1954. He is a keen supporter of Adult Literacy and he runs creative writing courses in prisons. These days he is a full time writer too and was already won the British Fantasy Award four times. He has written so far 17 highly acclaimed novel with the one I am reviewing having been first published in 2002.
==Synopsis of the book:==
The book follows the Vine family during and shortly after the Second World War. A family living in Coventry, a city that was devastated by bombing during that period of hostilities. They are a large family with seven grown up daughters and but brothers. As they try to deal with the hardships and tragedies of war leading to a new different but still challenging time.
Their story begins when the youngest daughter Cassie a simple but kind soul is planning to give her newborn baby boy away as he is not married. However, something makes her change her mind and her family support her, naming the new boy Frank. However after a short while her elderly mother Martha cannot cope with Cassie and Frank so she calls the family together to decide which sister will accommodate them.
Over the next few years Cassie and Frank spend time at each of her sister's homes. As she sometimes suffers with Mental Health problems and needs her son looked after. The sisters and their husbands are all different and Frank receives a different education from all of them, from life on a farm to a commune. He learns all about the closeness of his family and develops a close bond with all the family members.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
On balance I found this quite an enjoyable book. It was unusual and to be honest not my type of read. As it was quite a historical piece in some respects as in dealt with in some detail the Nazi bombing of Coventry and the results of that. The author clearly knew his history of the place and I think it was reflected in his work, as he was able to provide some interesting and thoughtful observations from it.
However, for me this was quite dull as I have little interest in the place and I felt I was not being told anything I didn't already know. It was more the story and the characters within that I would enjoy, so for me it was never going to be a fabulous read. Whereas if your interested in the history of the place you would enjoy it much more.
This is the third novel I have read written by Graham Joyce. The other two being: 'The Tooth Fairy' and 'Smoking Poppy'. These I thought were fabulous pieces of fiction in terms of their writing and also the way the stories unfolded. Sadly this book was not in the same class for me as I felt it lacked the purpose that two displayed in abundance.
So perhaps from the outset my expectations were too high and unrealistic. But what I have found with all three of these books is the author does have a unique and original approach to writing. I always enjoy the depth of his stories and this one was no exception and through his excellent descriptions you could feel that you are back in Coventry as the German fighter plans are inflicting their worst on the city.
When I first saw the title of this one I wondered what the author had in mind. As there were so many possible choices, I thought maybe a boy or girl approaching adulthood, but I had no idea at this point of the period it was set. It was only from reading the generally positive comments left by other people about it that I learnt a little more and realised my guess was mistaken.
This was all confirmed to me when I got the book and read the reasonable length summary within it. I liked the idea this gave of this powerful mother figure, who was able to keep a strong and close family unit together whatever was thrown at them. I expected some amazing, thought provoking stories about the war, but for me these were few and far between as a lot of the story dealt with the period after the war had finally ended.
Another feature that frustrated me about this book before I even started reading it was on the back cover of it. There was praise for the author from various magazines and papers. This is fine until you realise they are not necessarily talking about this book and it truth I'm sure they are not, they are talking generally about the books he has written. I would much rather see a few favourable words about the book I'm buying.
The story begins in an unusual way with Cassie planning to meet a man who will adopt her seven-day-old baby. However as the person is late she reconsiders her decision, it was an interesting start and you wondered how this young single mother would cope with bringing him up in the war. It also gave the reader a small insight in Cassie with her deep feelings of intuition and her physic ability, that was expanded upon later.
Over the next few chapter the story develops as Frank and Cassie move in and live for varying length of time with different sisters. You get to learn all about the differing outlook and standard of each sister, while learning about Cassie's power to influence those around her especially men but also the symptoms of her illness. You see a lot through Frank's eyes and how his experiences are developing him.
I found the story interesting as opposed to fascinating. The characters were very good but I thought it liked bite. It had the depth that I associate with this author, but I kept waiting for something earth shattering to happen involving Frank. With an important part being Cassie's role in the helping out during the bombing, but this was strangely put towards the end of the story when it should logically have been early as in chronological order. I understand why the author did this because it showed she could predict events and she was physic but it just seemed wrong to have it near the end.
This is to not to say this was enjoyable as it was at times spooky, chilling and quite mysterious. It based itself around many minor events rather than one distinct event that shaped the whole story. I enjoyed the way the author used the matriarch as the lynch pin in the family and I liked the way magic within her family seemed to have an effect on her.
It was a well-paced story with a very clear and concise conclusion. That made perfect sense and tied up all the loose ends, while at the same time it was the correct timing to finish the story. The only thing I found surprising was the unusual epilogue, which for me was not necessary.
While I enjoyed the story it was more the characters within it that brought it to life. Firstly I will focus on Frank. I liked the views and perception of this little boy; he was understanding, compassionate and excepting of his situation. I liked his communication with his Aunties and they way he would always tell them what he thought they wanted to hear. Although it surprised me he was not more curious about his father.
Cassie was probably my favourite character because she was so unusual. While on one level she was quite simple and easily influenced by her other sisters, she also had power over men in particular. Her heart was in the right place and she was a very caring and loving lady. With a lot of the deeper and more sensitive family matters going over her head, but at the same time it was her that brought two of this sisters feud to a conclusion with her positive action. She did things that most of us would not consider and that really made her a special character.
Martha, the mother was the other central character in the novel. She kept the family together and made all the important decisions within it. I liked her central role within it and how her role was central to the family. She too tried to solve any family problems by using her knowledge and experience from her own life. She was fantastically described and always involved either directly or indirectly in proceedings.
There was always a sense of the unknown, with the effect of mystery and magic had on all the family. I thought the author used a lot of imagination to display and write it in a really intriguing way. You were never sure until the end who had the physic abilities and whether it was going to work for good or evil. Especially with the twin sisters conducting their own spirit meeting inviting Frank and Cassie, you always had the feeling of impending doom.
Yet there were elements of the story I thought were master stokes a good example is little Frank's discovery of 'the man behind the glass' and his relationship with him. I thought the author could have incorporated more into this idea and have developed it far better in the course of the novel, as it for me was a wasted opportunity.
The length of the novel was a little on the short side, as I would have liked the concept above expanded considerably. That said it finished at the most logical point where the sisters lives were generally heading in a new different direction. It seemed the best point to close it, as it was the dawn of a new era.
I would recommend this book as a well-told story, especially if you are from the City of Coventry like the author and are interested in its history. For me the best part of the book was the mystery and magic within it and the excellent characters the author created.
Publisher: Phoenix Publications
About the author: www.grahamjoyce.net
@CPTDANIELS March 2010