I picked up The Other Hand in a charity shop and I said to my friend: Isn't this the best blurb you've ever read? For the record the blurb goes something like this:
"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It's a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it...once you have read it you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either"
This is really clever, and I've never seen it before, but this book goes further still. Inside the cover there's a letter from the Editor utterly effusive in its praise for the book and compares it to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark in terms of the global impact it's going to have.
Impressive, no? Then suddenly you realise that both the blurb and the letter are just part of a marketing strategy, designed to make you buy the book and talk about it, and that's all. But there's a problem here, if you're going to make this kind of extreme over the top guarantee that this novel will be a modern classic, that it will be one of the best books that you the Reader, will ever read, then it damn well better live up to it in every sense, or you look utterly ridiculous.
For the record, the assertion is utterly ridiculous.
The novel is average at best, and is yet another novel set amongst the crashingly tedious London Media and Social Elite which occupy about 1% of this country, but seem to occupy a lot of its novels.
There's the obligatory affair, the Home Office shindigs, the working mum who loves her son SOO SOO MUCH but is content to ship him off to a nursery which is literally described as airless and smelling like toilets, whilst she tells other women what to care about in a glossy magazine whilst agonising over whether she's obeyed that days dress code. Her cowardly husband is one of those right on broadsheeters who writes condescending articles telling other people they need to have a social conscience (yah, yah, etc) but can't muster himself to have one when the time comes, and the actually vile lover who is the ultimate "someone else's problem NIMBY" all for donating to Oxfam but god forbid one actually helps an actual African!!!
Also, at one point, David Blunkett gets called a twat, for no reason essential to the overall story. Does Chris Cleave know David Blunkett? Does he know him personally? Why single him out amongst a plethora of politician twats? It seems almost vindictive. Though, I'm sure had it been Darth Mandelson few would have objected!!
Yes, the actual event which unites the 2 main female characters is utterly harrowing, but then with our Nigerian protagonist, who has all the hallmarks of a character one could come to care about; the author uses her voice to beat his target audience with the stick of "white guilt". It's all the fault of your ancestors, BE ASHAMED, sins of the fathers.
Ultimately the message is - you people who read books like this aren't you all self important, first world problems shits just like my awful awful characters. It's hard not to feel like the author is preaching on a soap box. There are some nice pieces of prose now and then, but the characters are by and large ugly, which makes it hard to like or care.
The lesson here with regard to its essentially artificially generated hype is: don't write a cheque your product can't cash 4.5/10