The Book Review: March 2018
by Elizabeth Kay
Friend Request by Laura Marshall
I tend not to like books when the narrator tells you she has a secret, and then spends a lot of pages not revealing it. However, I found this one intriguing enough to persist, and eventually the pace picks up and it becomes compulsive reading. The plot hinges on schoolgirl bullying, but from the perspective of the one doing the bullying rather than the other way around. The power-play between teenage girls can be appallingly vicious. Who is friends with whom, who sits next to whom, and how some girls will do almost anything to be accepted by the ruling gang. The action moves to and fro between 2016, when Louise, the narrator, has a four-year-old son, and 1989, when she was at school.
Louise is divorced and still holds a candle for her ex, Sam, who was also at the same school. It’s clear that Louise is a seriously over-protective mother, with low self-esteem despite running a successful interior design business. The story begins when she gets a Facebook friend request from the girl she bullied at school, Maria, who died many years previously. The messages become more threatening, and the danger real. The twist at the end took me completely by surprise, although it wasn’t a cheat as there were well-hidden clues along the way. It’s a light read, although it does make some good points in that bullies don’t always get off scot-free – they can suffer for years afterwards as well.
Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff
Be aware that if you buy the Kindle version, the last 20% of the book is the index. I expected this to be more of a rush job than it actually is – it’s not badly written, and it has the ring of truth about it. It tells the story of the first ten months of the Trump presidency, and of course the story has moved on since then – the action in the book finishes in October 2017. It’s clear that something like this has to be checked very thoroughly by lawyers before it’s published, so making a last-minute
inclusion would have been very unwise.
If you’re not American, following the people, their positions, and the structure of the White House is hard work. In the end, I printed out a list of the Trump cabinet, which was out of date by the time I finished the final chapter! The book paints a picture of a self-centred individual with a very short attention span and deplorable general knowledge. The verbatim transcripts of Trump’s speeches are hilarious – as repetitive and incoherent as we’ve come to expect. This is the man whose blatant nepotism is beyond belief, who spends a great deal of his time on the golf course, and seems to have problem with reality. The administration is in chaos,
as Trump seems to think he’s still running The Apprentice, and all he has to do when he doesn’t like something is to fire someone. Although the text is a bit dry at times and occasionally repetitive it’s a fascinating read.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
I think this book should come with a warning – don’t try this at home. Climbing on rooftops is a very poor idea. The story focuses on Sophie, found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. She is taken in by a scholar, Charles, but she has never given up on the idea that her mother is still alive. The two of them find a clue in the cello case, and when the authorities decide that Charles is not a fit person to bring up a young girl they go to Paris on what could well be a wild goose chase. There, Sophie meets the children who live on the roofs of the buildings, eating rats and pigeons, avoiding the ground and detection by traveling through the trees. This book has won a lot of awards. The descriptive writing is reminiscent of Frances Hardinge – both writers went to Oxford – but the plot is not as sophisticated or rewarding, and although praised for its originality it owes much to The Night Climbers of Cambridge, published in 1937.
The editing leaves a lot to be desired, which is rather surprising from a publisher like Faber. Span instead of spun, less instead of fewer, practise for practice. However, a lot of children who like adventure will love this, as the detail is realistic and doesn’t skirt around the injuries and filth involved in climbing on old roofs. There is much to praise in the writing itself, and the inventive turns of phrase. You hear a click, sometimes. But so quietly… Like an ant coughing.
Elizabeth Kay is a published author of numerous books including The Divide trilogy, a series of children’s fantasy novels. A teacher of creative writing and a keynote speaker at Accio 2005, the Harry Potter conference as well as appearances at other literary events, including the Cheltenham and Edinburgh festivals. Elizabeth offers Magnet readers her thoughts on recent reads that have caught her attention.