Quick and the dead
Love, loneliness and loss get in the way of closet artist’s desire to escape his boring job.
Ellis Judd is unhappy. Everyone he’s ever cared about is dead. His wife, Annie, his estranged friend Michael and his mother. His father, whom he doesn’t like, is hanging in there grimly, and even though Ellis wanted to be an artist, at 46 he’s still working in a car plant. Right now, you’ll be forgiven for assuming that TIN MAN (Hachette, $29.99) is a complete downer, but it’s more bittersweet than depressing. Author Sarah Winman never lets it get too dark, so we can read about sad Ellis in comfort, knowing nothing truly terrible will happen to him. Although this is primarily Ellis’s story, Michael pops up as narrator in part two, filling in gaps. Annie, who’s supposed to be a character of equal weight, isn’t given the same opportunity, which jars a little. It’s a pleasant read that won’t test your nerve, but it won’t linger in your mind either.
“A Viking Game of Thrones,” says the publicity for Linnea
Hartsuyker’s THE HALF DROWNED
KING (Hachette, $34.99), which is almost but not quite entirely a lie. There are Norse rulers vying for control. There’s swordplay and a tiny amount of rape and pillage, but overall this is a tame game. That said, it’s entertaining enough, and squeamish readers who prefer less blood and more historical accuracy should enjoy it. Based on a true story, the novel’s main character is nascent warrior Ragnvald, who since his father’s death has worked hard to keep himself and his younger sister, Svanhild, alive. A talented strategist, he draws the attention of Harald, who may be the long-foretold king of a united Norway.
But for every ally there’s a determined enemy. Will Ragnvald and Svanhild make it to part two of this trilogy? A saga on the mild side.
Author Lily Woodhouse has already been outed as our very own Stephanie Johnson, having a go in JARULAN BY THE RIVER
(Harper Collins: $35) at a sweeping family saga in the tradition of The Thorn Birds.
Set mainly in rural Australia between 1916 and 1939, the book has everything you’d expect: crumbling mansion, controlling patriarch, dead mad wife, feckless heir, faithful retainer and a beautiful blonde with her eye on the prize. Obligatory hint of Gothic too, with a surprising number of ghosts. It could be ludicrously clichéd, except that Woodhouse/Johnson is too good a writer. The novel is atmospheric, with some wonderful descriptive passages, and the characters are compelling. It has faults: the house, the novel’s eponymous centre, is too indistinct, and the second half shifts so often between characters that we start to lose our attachment to them. But these are minor quibbles. Recommended.
Sarah Winman: never lets her book get too dark.