Book No 13 (2021) : The Sight of You

To enjoy this book, you’ve first of all got to accept the central premise that Joel has foresight: he can predict what’s going to happen to his friends and family in the future. If you’re going to spend the whole time yelling at the pages ‘but this is ridiculous, no-one can predict the future‘, I suggest this may not be the novel for you.

Once you’ve got that sorted, there is a lot to enjoy. Which is not what I was expecting to say, as romance is not usually my thing. In books I mean, not in life!

The love story between Joel and Callie is a slow burner, but I found it more credible as a result. The couple meet when Callie is working in a cafe and Joel is a customer, noticeable because he falls asleep at the table. Unbeknown to Callie, his night-time dreams of the future are so all-consuming, he tries to avoid them by surviving on as little shut-eye as possible. The main reason for the romance developing slowly though, is that Joel knows something bad is going to happen and, as a result, he doesn’t want to commit to the relationship. To add to the tension, the reader has no idea what Fate has in store. Joel’s advance warning causes him to take a drastic, heartbreaking decision.

As a story, I was swept along by this writing and really cared about the characters. The plot is simple with an ambiguous ending, which wasn’t a problem for me. What lingers after the last page though, is the searching question about whether you’d embark on a love affair, knowing when and how it would end. Not a vague notion of maybe it won’t work out, but the specific time, date and reason.

Of course I don’t know what other readers’ answers will be: but I can’t help thinking that we all know a romance is going to end. Whether that be in a few weeks, years or even decades, it will come to an end. Whether you part amicably or acrimoniously, for any number of reasons, or till death do you part, nothing is forever, not even the love of your life. Yet most of us take that risk time and time again. Maybe the truth is in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s words that ultimately, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. I, for one, have always been willing to take that chance on love.

Book No 10 (2021) : Anatomy of a Scandal

Sarah Vaughan’s novel has been hugely successful. As well as having been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club in 2018, it has recently been added to that Club’s list of their favourite, stand-out titles from the past decade. Which all makes me think that anything I might have to say will be largely irrelevant, as the reading jury has already delivered its positive verdict on this one! Nevertheless, I’ll give you my twopenn’orth.

The plot of the novel (classed by Richard & Judy as ‘literary fiction‘ #debatable) centres upon a prosecution for rape brought against a politician (James Whithouse) by an aide with whom he was having an affair. The case is prosecuted by a female barrister, Kate; it transpires that she has a particular reason for wanting to see this perpetrator brought to justice.

Switching between the viewpoints of Kate, James and his wife (Sophie), and a University contemporary of the couple (Holly), the story is set between the University of Oxford in the early 1990s and the London setting of Westminster and the courts in 2017. Although this may sound complex, it works reasonably well as a literary device and the plot is easy to follow. I managed to read the book in a day.

For most of the day that I spent reading though, I wanted to fling the ‘Sunday Times‘ best-selling, 4-pages of plaudits, Simon & Schuster novel at the wall. If it hadn’t have been the monthly choice for our own village book group, I would have given up.

Firstly, the plot is paper-thin. If it was a hotel wall, you’d be able to hear your neighbour clipping their toenails. It is also predictable, and not in a dramatically ironic way, more in a ‘I saw that coming a mile off” way. Kate has a back-story which is barely disguised and the reveal is under-whelming.

Even more frustrating though, were the clumsy stereo-types, especially of Oxford students: the provincial, dull, hard-working state school pupil who is over-awed by the public-school types. Contrast her with the posh bird – beautiful, sporty, wealthy and only at Oxford to find a husband. The male counterparts are the posh boys – floppy haired members of exclusive drinking clubs, drug-taking champagne quaffers who are dismissive of their sexual flings with women. This may have been the Oxford of Sarah Vaughan’s youth, but I felt she does the University a huge disservice. Oxford today works hard to dispel these out-dated stereotypes, which threaten to make an Oxbridge place feel unattainable for less privileged and state school pupils. Interestingly, most of us in the book group discussion had come to the same conclusion – many of us have first-hand experience of the modern University of Oxford and were disappointed by the cliches.

The number of rape convictions in England and Wales has fallen to a record low but sadly the treatment of the issue in this novel was disappointing, with the prosecuting lawyer driven by a personal vendetta, rather than striving for a conviction to deliver justice for the victim.

I realise that my last few reviews I’ve been a bit Marmite about books – I other seem to love ’em or hate ’em. But this one is definitely toast!