I can't resist a wry smile when someone in the two reading groups I belong to here in Winchester suggests as a group read a book we've featured in newbooks. Pleasingly, (smugly???) those selections usually turn out well (although we did draw a veil over Howard Jacobson's Kalooki Nights which nobody had finished when we met).
However, my wry-ness may well turn to shyness next week when we gather to discuss Hearts & Minds by Amanda Craig. I remember reading a superb piece on her blog about the 'joys' of being a promoting author and the unrealistic, even unreasonable things she had been asked to do as if she were a performing monkey.
However, I can't help hearing as I'm reading 'show, don't tell'. Easier said than done, I know, but because her tale is so reminiscent of other recent - better? - novels I'm worried we may throw this book to the wolves next week.
Heaven knows, it's hard enough for an author to make a career these days and I don't have any profound answers other than knowing when something's not quite right or good enough to pass muster with the 'average' reading group. In its favour, I will finish Heart & Minds before we meet and these days that in itself is good news.
At least Amanda has her publisher's support, something that Zina Rohan lost somewhere along the way having published 3 or 4 novels. I don't know the details but suffice to say she was driven to go the self-publishing route with Bright Pen, an operation I've never heard of before.
Nicola Barranger of theinterviewonline brought The Small Book to our attention and thereafter a review copy went out to Mandy Jenkinson in Cheltenham. This just in from Mandy pretty well says it all,
"I'm very excited by this book! Never heard of it - and so glad to have discovered it. Thank you. Really great read, very enjoyable and extremely well-written. Certainly deserves to be better known, so good that newbooks is doing its bit!
The Small Book/Zina Rohan/Bright Pen 2010/9780755212309/£7.99 pbk 237pp
Personal read **** Group read *****
In July 1915, on the Somme, Ken Hoskins is detailed to a firing squad to execute an alleged deserter from his own company. When he returns from the war, he is haunted by the incident, and the experience shapes the rest of his life, and the lives of his family, as he tries to make amends.
This is an intelligent, well -written and absorbing novel. I had never heard of it, nor of Zina Rohan, nor indeed of the publisher. A quick straw poll of fellow readers [Mandy is a keen ReadItSwapIt user among other bookish websites] told me that virtually no one else had heard of the author either, and when I last looked there were only 2 reviews of the book on Amazon. This is a great shame, because I found this book one of my most enjoyable reads of 2010, and it deserves a wide audience.
It is a powerful novel about the effects of both concealing and of revealing the truth. Told in first person accounts from the key protagonists, Rohan expertly alternates the voices and weaves the separate narratives into a seamless whole. The narrative is balanced by the characters' thoughts about society and politics, with an intriguing glimpse into the world of the nascent Communist Party of Great Britain. It is thought-provoking, especially about the executions of deserters in WW1; it is an engrossing historical novel as well as a family saga; and it is extremely moving. The style is lucid and well-paced, and I recommend it with some passion! It is certainly ideal for book groups as it offers so many themes to discuss.
It is also a novel that supports the old adage that you can't judge a book by its cover - in this case I feel that the cover is positively misleading, as it depicts four (Australian, for some reason) soldiers, in black and white, which makes it look like a war book, when it is so much more than that, and I fear that it could become lost amongst more eye-catching covers."