Book No 2 (2020) : Ordinary Thunderstorms

Until I started work at Jesus College, Oxford, I’d never actually heard of William Boyd. But it turns out he’s an alumnus of the College; I’ve read quite a few of his novels to date and enjoyed them all, especially ‘Restless’. ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ was our Book Club choice for March 2020.

Adam Kindred’s life turns on a sixpence. Having been for a job interview, he meets a businessman and strikes up a conversation. When the businessman leaves a file of information behind in  restaurant, Adam tries to return it. The simple act of kindness results in life as he knows it unravelling. He’s forced to live rough, skulking in the shadows of London trying to avoid detection. Meanwhile, the reader learns the back story of the forgetful businessman, and his role in the development of a ground-breaking cure for asthma. As the novel develops, we meet a two contrasting casts of characters, ranging from hit-men and prostitutes in London’s underclasses, to a titled Board member and top pharmaceutical executives.

This book cracks on at a pace, with plenty of twists and turns. It is cleverly crafted, weaving together the major threads of the story in a page-turning thriller. As well as being exciting, I found myself really questioning who were the good guys and who were the baddies, and how easy it is to make assumptions about people based on their place in society. Adam is faced with some tough choices and makes some decisions which I’m sure he would have abhorred in his previous life. It really made me think about what lengths I might be prepared to go to in order to survive.

If you haven’t read any Boyd before, this is as good a place as any to start. However if it isn’t quite to your liking, I wouldn’t give up on him without trying another book – one of the things we agreed upon in our Book Club chat is that Boyd’s novels are very different from one another. So much so, that if you didn’t know, it might not be that easy to tell they were all by the same author.

Book No 1 (2020) : The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Here’s the thing, though. I may not have been blogging and my Insta feed is looking a bit neglected, but I have been reading!

First up this year was ‘The Lightkeeper’s Daughters‘ by Jean E. Pendziwol. As we know, I’m a sucker for books about lighthouses, seascapes, windswept coastlines and the like so from the blurb this seemed to hit the spot.

This novel has two story-lines, one contemporary and the other historical. Morgan is a troubled teenager who is given community service after she is caught spray painting. She’s put to work at a local care home for the elderly, where she makes the acquaintance of one of the residents, Elizabeth. The pair strike up an awkward friendship, each initially mistrustful of the other, although Elizabeth is always aware of the younger woman’s vulnerability. As Elizabeth’s sight is failing, Morgan takes on the job of reading aloud a set of journals, detailing Elizabeth and her twin sister Emily’s lives on Porphyry Island where their father was the lighthouse keeper. As the story of the twin’s background emerges, it becomes clear that Elizabeth and Morgan have a closer link than they realise.

I really wanted to love this book, as I usually do when there’s a pharological* aspect, but this failed to captivate me. I felt as if the dynamic between Elizabeth and Morgan was clichéd, and the plot twists piled in towards the end like a Springboks’ scrum in the dying minutes of a match – I got a bit confused about who was who. A bit of mystery is good, but the premise is based upon a huge coincidence. HUGE.

And to top it all, I discover Lake Superior isn’t even the actual sea. I tell you, there is no end to my disappointment.

(* disclaimer: this may not be a word, but a pharologist studies lighthouses and signal lights, so it seemed logical!)