Book No 43 (2014) : A Waking Serpent

waking serpentOne of the topics which seems to fascinate my children is: “if someone killed me, would you kill them?” I think the theoretical query is intended to test the bounds of my devotion to them – these are, of course, limitless (although I do have an inbuilt aversion to cleaning up vomit and am not keen on washing football kit). When posed the question though, I usually give a non-committal reply, not sure whether I would actually be able to take an eye for an eye. ‘A Waking Serpent‘ by Peter Boyle tackles this very subject.

Robert, an architect with offices in London and Hong Kong, witnesses the murder of his son by members of the IRA. From his grief comes a desire for revenge; he and his family take it upon themselves to avenge Richard’s death by hunting down and killing the members of the terrorist cell responsible. Their quest leads them into danger, they risk their own lives and safety, but do not deviate from their purpose. It is fascinating to see the contrast between this ordinary family in plotting-to-kill mode, then again on their garden lawn sipping white wine in the sunshine. One thing I particularly enjoyed about the book is the strong female characters, especially Robert’s warrior daughter, Joanna.

It is clear that Mr Boyle has considerable knowledge of the murky underworld of crime which supports terrorist activity and the afterword confirms that he worked for GCHQ, the Intelligence and Security organisation. I’ve met him, actually.  This is the second time recently that I have read a book by someone I’ve met in the flesh. In this instance, I was really surprised at the contrast between fact and fiction as Peter was a mild mannered man with a passion for fly-angling and a considerable talent for watercolour painting.

By the time I finished reading, I was fairly sure that my answer to my kids’ hypothetical situation : “No darling, I wouldn’t. I might want to, but I am not brave enough.”

There is a rather sad postcript to this review. I met Peter in the summer at the river where he loved to fish. When he heard about my blog, he asked whether I would read and review his book and I was happy to oblige. I downloaded and started the book that evening, but didn’t quite finish it. Whilst waiting for my son to come out of football on Saturday last, I decided to use the ‘Kindle’ App on my IPhone to read the last couple of chapters. Once I’d turned the last virtual page, I was already mentally writing my blog post and thinking about an email to send Peter to say how much I had enjoyed ‘A Waking Serpent’. I arrived home an hour or so later to learn from my husband that Peter had passed away suddenly on Friday night. The coincidence caused me to wonder if there are forces at work in the world, about which we understand very little.

Peter’s untimely death has had a devastating effect on his wide circle of friends. His book is lasting proof of his undoubted intelligence, creativity and lively imagination.


Book No 42 (2014) : Us

usMark Haddon was clearly on to something when he penned ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time‘. Since then, male characters with a seeming tendency towards Aspergers have become very popular. Boffins are all the rage. They have appeared in ‘The Rosie Project‘ (just followed by ‘The Rosie Effect’), ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods‘ and now ‘Us’ by David Nicholls. It is Mr Nicholls’ fourth book and it made the Booker Long (but not Short)list.

The Petersens have been married a long time – they have one son, Albie, now a teenager. Douglas is a scientist, thinker in details, observer of minutiae and careful planner. Connie is an artist, impulsive, emotional and hands-off mother. Connie announces to Douglas that she intends to end their marriage, but nevertheless they set off with a less-than-enthusiastic son in tow, to explore Europe. Can a summer of familial Interrailing put Connie and Douglas’ relationship back on the map?

Douglas is an easy enough character to like, but the scenarios and conversations which derive their humour from someone with a two-dimensional take on life, are not that novel any more. There are laugh-out-loud moments, together with an insightful look into the tension which exists between parents and children, partners and lovers. I didn’t understand many of the references to museums, galleries, plazas and paintings; not knowing my Goya from my Gaudi hindered my ability to set a mental scene.

The big question which the author poses to the reader, is whether the extended holiday will save Douglas and Connie’s marriage. Shall I tell you?? No, as the pursuit of the answer is actually what kept me reading. Of course, if you are less patient than me you could read the first and last chapters. You wouldn’t miss a great deal and you’d still get the gist of the story, pretty much. Booker prize-winner? I don’t think so, and clearly the judges agreed with me!