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The Pools - Bethan Roberts

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Paperback: 304 pages / Publisher: Serpent's Tail / Published: 3 July 2008

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      22.02.2013 12:53
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      A fascinating read that is slightly let down in places.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Beginning at the end ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This story begins, in a way, at the end. It is Christmas 1985 and 15-year-old Robert's body has been found at 'the pools' - which aren't actually pools but in fact disused gravel pits next to the power station ~~~~~~~~~~~ Telling the story ~~~~~~~~~~~ The book has two narrators, Howard, Robert's father, and Joanna, a friend of Robert's. The prologue at the start of the novel offers the perfect introduction to the story, with Howard describing the morning of Robert's funeral in one short chapter and, in an even shorter chapter, Joanna sitting and waiting for someone called Shane. Howard, Kathryn (his wife), Joanna, Shane and of course Robert are the five key characters in the book. ~~~~~~~~ Back in time ~~~~~~~~ Then the book itself begins, and we go back to 1965 with Howard describing how he met and got together with Kathryn, Robert's mother. This for me was the most interesting part of the story as you really got to know Howard and there were also little hints about a certain strangeness in his relationship with Kathryn, who had been married previously. We then get glimpses of Robert as a child. This is the longest section of the book and, after this, the book flits between the two narrators as they describe the events leading up to Robert's death. ~~~~~~~~~ Easy to read ~~~~~~~~~ Overall I found this book a very enjoyable and quite quick read. It is written in a very readable style, with lots of dialogue and an easy tone. Towards the end I found I wanted to read on quickly to find out what was going to happen. I think having two such different narrators was really interesting - a precocious and seemingly confident teenage girl alongside the slightly awkward middle-aged man made for an interesting contrast and I feel that the author managed both these voices really well - you could definitely tell their voices apart. As well as the five main characters in the book, there are also a few bit part players that are really interesting and give you more of an insight into the key characters, including Joanna's parents and Howard's mother - and Joanna's rather creepy step-father. ~~~~~~~~~ Fave narrator ~~~~~~~~~ Of the two narrators, I certainly preferred Howard who was clearly quite a complex character who was having to deal with all sorts of issues and didn't really know how. I was really interested in his story and how he perceived things, and the way things made him feel uncomfortable. Joanna, on the other hand, is quite a promiscuous young girl who I didn't feel any real empathy with despite her clearly difficult circumstances at home. ~~~~~~~~~~~ Kathryn mystery ~~~~~~~~~~~ However for me the most interesting character was Kathryn, and I did feel that there was so much more to her which we didn't quite get enough of in this book - there were many times during Howard's narration where I really wanted to find out more about Kathryn and what she was feeling, and although you could deduce some of this I felt I needed a bit more at times. She clearly had a history that was touched upon, and the way she is with Robert when he is first born is also interesting and, I thought, a little under-developed. Having said this, I feel that if Kathryn had been a narrator we would have missed out on Howard which would have been a shame as he was also a complex and fascinating character. I also felt that the climax of the story was a bit disappointing - I won't give anything away here but I felt a bit short-changed when I finished the book. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Interesting characters ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Overall I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it. I think the characters are stronger than the story in some ways, and I think in the main the characters were really interesting and intriguing, and I wanted to know more about all of them and what motivated them - although a lot in this novel is left unsaid. The real disappointment of the story for me was the slightly anti-climactic ending. I actually think the book would have benefited from an extra 50 pages or so to further develop the characters and their relationships. But I did enjoy reading it and will look up other books by this author.

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