Monday, 28 March 2011

Book #15 Notorious by Roberta Lowing


They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but I'm afraid I did with Notorious. It's cover is stunning, intricate red and gold lines, surrounding a blue oval cut out in it's centre. The lettering of the title also looks like what Notorious means. I also like the word Notorious, the sound and all that it implies.

I bought this book in Borders in Christchurch, New Zealand
(Yes, they still have Borders there : extreme jealousy)

It was published by an Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin and is the work of an Australian writer. A check by me has found it to be unavailable on Amazon UK, but available on Amazon USA, so that's where the link at the top leads to.

As a debut novel this work deserves praise, a LOT of hard work has gone into it, and debut novels are normally not expected to be of this quality.

The main protagonists are Australian, a man going by the alias John Devlin and a woman who remains nameless throughout the novel. The action however bounces us through Poland, Morocco, Fifties Italy, Present Day Italy and Borneo, before bouncing us back again around these locations. The author also plays with the chronology of events so that the reader has occasional difficulty, at least I did, keeping track.  

I respect the fact that Lowing does not hold your hand through this novel, or spell anything out, generally I prefer it that way, but, having completed it I'm not sure if the conclusions I have drawn are the correct ones, perhaps that was intentional. If there is one thing this book cannot be accused of, it cannot be accused of lacking mysteriousness.

The entire novel from it's beginning prologue is a mystery. Why is the nameless woman being hunted? Just what did happen to her missing brother? What is the exact relationship between the woman and Devlin? And why, oh why, is that book authored by Arthur Rimbaud so significant? I got to around page 300 before I figured that out and wanted to kick myself.

The descriptive prose weaves a rich tapestry both of location and character, sometimes feeling rather more like poetry, and though we don't know the characters real names I felt that I knew them better than some characters in other novels whose names I did know.

Where I do have a slight criticism is in the dialogue, the woman almost always speaks in a poetic, philosophical, enigmatic way. Many of us experience the phenomena of analysing a past conversation and coming up with a clever answer which we "should have said". This woman always seems to have the clever answer, which I found artificial in a way. It is very pretty to read however.

The books last section reveals a twist/coincidence which I found rather unlikely if I'm honest. A bit like the happy coincidences of certain 19th century novels (I'm looking at you Jane Eyre and Great Expectations) The existence of this strange coincidence though, acts as a way of taking all the strings of the novel and tying them together in a way that is clever. Well, it's clever if I've understood the end of it correctly!

I think that this book is intriguing in every way and has a real sense of the atmosphere of all its locations, making you feel as a present observer, which is a genuine skill. I think however that the lack of a direct and clear explanation of all the things left untold, will definitely frustrate many readers. 8/10

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