Moonglow by Michael Chabon

26795307A lot of talk has surrounded Michael Chabon’s new ‘novel’ – not only because, well, a new Chabon release is enough to wake the literary world up from its slumbers – but because of its clever use of a hybrid of forms. Moonglow straddles the divide between fiction and memoir; ostensibly a narrative born from Chabon’s grandfather’s stories as he lay dying back in 1989, the author freely admits that he was instructed: “Explain everything. Make it mean something. Use a lot of those fancy metaphors of yours.”

So, has he taken liberties with his grandfather’s tales? Chabon confesses in the acknowledgments that Moonglow is a “pack of lies”, but this is merely a plea for the reader not to study every detail, but to enjoy the whole story. Memory is, of course, unreliable at the best of times, and the very nature of the stories being passed on from his grandfather at the end of his life while he’s ill – not to mention the re-telling from Chabon himself – suggests perhaps that we should take everything with a pinch of salt.

Chabon has fun, obeying his grandfather’s wish for a bit of narrative playfulness, as he explores his family’s sweeping history – a past that roams from a synagogue gala in Baltimore in 1947, to an end-of-World War II Germany; across a seemingly endless mishmash of American locations. Moonglow works as a series of vignettes – which Chabon explores with his usual humour and warmth – and at times may seem meandering. Yet this is also the nature of memory, and the book sticks to its own structure; one determined by his grandfather’s reveries. This book is better for its lack of ‘neatness’ and a strict narrative timeline.

Some of the most vivid scenes in the book recall his grandfather’s experiences as a solider in WWII; or the time he was fired from his job and took his anger and frustration out – with terrible consequences – on his boss. Chabon writes with wonderful lyricism and craft, fashioning out of his grandfather’s memories a story of love and loss, but also of laughter and warmth. The reader is also treated to some sharp, evocative passages on Chabon’s grandfather’s obsession with spaceflight. He drives down to Florida for every rocket launch, and is given a job for NASA building model rockets. He promises his wife – a refugee from France – that he will one day fly her “to find refuge on the moon.”

This ‘refuge’ is not only a nod to Chabon’s grandmother’s beginnings – which are explored with some terrific scenes elsewhere in the book – but as we learn more about her, it also suggests a refuge from herself and the “skinless horse” that plagues her waking dreams. Chabon’s grandmother suffered with voices and visions, and some of the most piercing passages in the book explore the repercussions of this.

In Moonglow, Chabon is on top form. Whether he is describing his fear as a child of the evil-looking puppets owned by his grandparents – that he ultimately thought were going to kill him while he slept – or his grandfather’s attempts to search out and kill a snake for the affections of a woman in the twilight of his life – Chabon’s story-telling (or re-telling) is a joy. Forget the issue of categorisation, Moonglow is, fittingly, a beautiful blend of fiction and truth; memoir, but with just the right sprinkling of embellishment.

***

Moonglow is released on November 22. Thank you to Harper Collins for the ARC.

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Pendulum by Adam Hamdy

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1477857046l/27396854.jpgIn a book-selling market where it has become increasingly useful to have an effective social media campaign – as well as the latest super quote from a best-selling author – it is difficult to look past those advertisements that promise so much and deliver so little, to find the real gems. Adam Hamdy’s Pendulum ­arrives this winter championed by author James Patterson, who describes it as “one of the best thrillers of the year.” The difference this time: Pendulum is well worth the hype and attention.

Hamdy, a British writer who is well known for his film work – for instance: the comedy feature film Pulp, which became the first to film to ever premiere on Xbox’s Video platform – has brought that same eye for detail to his writing, and it would be no surprise to see Pendulum adapted for the big screen in the not-so-distance future. From the outset of the novel the action is immersive and the threat dangerously real.

Meet John Wallace, a highly successful photographer – but one who when the story starts is not only mentally hanging from a rope, but literally too. Hamdy pulls no punches, starting this high octane, all-action thriller with Wallace’s death-defying escape from a masked and armoured stranger who has entered his home to execute a forced hanging. Wallace’s death is designed to look like a suicide, but our main character escapes – barely – forced to jump through his upper-story window and flee for his life. He wakes in a London hospital, needing to convince the police that instead of going crazy – and indeed imaging the attack – another threat on his life may be imminent.

This is easier said than done, as Wallace becomes embroiled in a cat-and-mouse chase that takes us through the London streets – via mental hospitals, a ghastly American prison, burning buildings – in a thrilling narrative that never stops to breathe. Not knowing who to trust, Wallace must unravel the clues that are slowly drip-fed to us, as he slowly begins to realise that the attack on his life was no isolated event: past murders bear remarkably similar patterns. Wallace’s attacker is intelligent, resourceful and patient. This will be a battle of wits to the very end.

Wallace is a very likeable character; it’s easy to become invested in his quest to discover the truth, as he tries to battle through the demons of the past at the same time. Hamdy’s main character is strong, well-trained and powerful – with a remarkable, somewhat disbelieving, James Bond-esque tendency to escape certain death at the very last moment – but he is also sensitive, caring, and has psychological depths which give Pendulum a lot more weight.

Hamdy’s novel is a modern one in the traditional sense: it deals with some interesting questions about love, loss and memory – but it is also, at its best, a page-turner that rips you from the comfort of your couch and doesn’t put you down. Some of the best thrillers require a bit of suspended disbelief, and at times Hamdy’s book threatens to let itself go – before just managing to reign in the far-fetched scenarios just in time.

At times the narrative is dark and violent – and the author certainly holds nothing back in that respect, with a Game of Thrones-esque propensity to kill people off when you least expect it – but Pendulum is an immersive book that certainly deserves its plaudits. Make no mistake about it: thriller fans wait with baited breath to see what Hamdy has in store for his fans next.

Thanks to NetGalley and Headline books for making this ARC available. Pendulum is available online and in all good bookstores now.

Public Service Announcement

As winter draws in and a roaring open fire becomes a much more common – and pleasing – sight, the temperature drops and the British nights seem to never end, November seems to become a time for introspection and retrospection – which is, I suppose, what really prompted this blog post.

I recently had some bad news in that I was dismissed from my job, and although there’s never a right time to be fired, this time of year doesn’t seem to lend itself to positive thoughts for the future and seeing things in a more optimistic light. Yet, at the risk of sounding like something you would read out of a fortune cookie, sometimes the most negative of circumstances can be a good thing. I hope that somewhere down the line I retrospectively see this as a turning point; as the moment I was forced to pick  a new – and potentially more rewarding – path to go down. But enough about that.

It has been seven months since I last posted on this blog and that is inexcusable. I could make my excuses, and indeed it has been a tricky year for me, with a lot of personal issues stopping me from turning my attention to writing reviews and posts on a regular basis. However, for all of that, if I’m being honest, the lack of content is my own fault: I’ve become disillusioned with writing, jotting down my thoughts and opinions became a chore. I’ve always been of the mindset that if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, I would stop: and that is what I did. Instead, I’ve read books without the pressure of deadlines; neglected creative writing to the point where I haven’t written a thing – unless tweets count? – for a very long time.

Yet recently I’ve realised this was a mistake. I enjoy writing, crafting reviews and sharing my thoughts – if not to a wide audience, or even any readers at all – but the actual process is invaluable to me, and it’s time I stopped fighting against that. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where publishers – whether via Netgalley or in physical form – and friends in publishing, will kindly send me books for review. They, and indeed the authors, deserve better than for me to sit looking at said book without ever writing the promised critique.

So it’s time to stop making excuses and start making amends. I hope that in the near future I can blog more frequently – with this website being used as a platform to share whatever I can dreg out from the dusty corners of my creativity. My apologies for being so rubbish – and I hope dearly that you can all jump on board once more.