Thursday, July 29, 2010

BOOK: The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn

The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn, 250 pages

Typically British challenge; review copy from Random House

Poor Frank Allcroft. He's a news show anchor with little social awareness and not much of a sense of humour. He's still mourning the death of the anchor he has replaced. Phil was a legend, and Frank's mentor. He's also 43 and verging on a midlife crisis. He begins to look into Phil's hit and run death a little more closely. Frank actually 'deals' with the news stories he covers belatedly. Deaths of people with no next of kin particularly bother Frank. Frank was a great character, never wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, but ends up being put upon. It makes him seem like a pushover, but he really isn't.

The story moves along nicely, with a slight mystery. I wouldn't call this book a mystery from the genre, but there is an overarching mystery to be solved, along with Frank settling issues in his life. O'Flynn writes wonderfully rich characters like Frank and his wife and daughter, who are also very real. The overlying themes in this book are about appearances. Frank's father was an architect involved in the rebuilding after the war. His buildings are now being torn down after valuing function over appearance. His town planning idea shows that you can't always plan for things to turn out the way you want them to. Frank does a lot of reminiscing about his childhood and his parents, and how they led him to be the way he is. The book isn't long, but as I try to write about it, there are so many ideas and layers that it is hard to describe.

So, O'Flynn - terrific writing, lots of humour, rich characters, a mystery or two that keep you turning the page, great surprising ending, along with some social commentary. I think I've found a new author to watch.

also reviewed: Jill at the magic lasso

 What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, 242 pages
Orange Longlist 2007; Booker Longlist 2007; Typically British Challenge

I enjoyed The News Where You Are so much that I checked the library and was able to pick O'Flynn's debut novel. Then, accidentally arriving to a girls' night out dinner an hour early with only this book in hand, I got a great start on it. It was also great! The first part of the book, in 1984, we follow Kate Meaney, nine year old detective in the making. She reminded me of Flavia de Luce but with a kinder heart. Smart but equally lonely. Then the book jumps forward twenty years, and we meet Kurt and Lisa, two disenfranchised twenty somethings, working dead end jobs at the local mall. Both have a slight connection to Kate from twenty years before. Then the third section wrapped up the slight mystery with some great twists I did not see coming. Well, maybe I saw them coming a little bit, but I still enjoyed them.

I like O'Flynn's writing style. She has sad themes of loneliness and finding your place in society, but includes humorous lines and comments -

Lisa imagined one day setting a valve on the door that let the customers in but not out, and then when the department was full, pouring in pectin and setting the customers in a kind of rich jam. p191

Her setting of Birmingham is gritty and looks at England during a time when the failing industrial business changed the landscape. Her characters felt so real, making decisions good and bad. And she has a wit and humorous way of writing. There are a few rifts on customers that only people who have worked in retail can appreciate. She reminds me a bit of Douglas Coupland with the rich characters, humourous writing and engaging plots that subtlely make social comments on a few layers. Yep, I still have O'Flynn on my author watch.

also reviewed: sam at sam's book blog,  jackie at farm lane books, nan at letters from a hill farm, dovegreyreader at scribbles,