A review of a book I read recently

Book Review

Salmon fishing in the Lebanon” was Paul Torday's first novel that is now also a film. Since then he has been prolific. He has produced interesting, well-written and often comical whilst moving fiction. His latest novel "The light shining in the forest" is no exception, though it is much darker than the previous novels and covers the uncomfortable ground of child abduction, murder and the supernatural.

The main character in the story is Norman, a minor bureaucrat, who has risen through the ranks by playing the system to become the Regional Children's Commissioner (designate) for the North East. Due to political manoeuvring, this new post has been created but policy changes in Whitehall have meant that nothing has been done to give the post-holder a role. As a result he is left on his own with a job title, large salary, and an office with secretary but has nothing to do. Also crucial to the story is the local trainee reporter, Willie, who is desperate to move beyond the parochialism of a local newspaper and become a real investigative journalist. The book conveys an oppressive description of the remote border lands of the Kielder Forest in Northumberland.

Torday gives a critique of much child protection practice and the whole safeguarding industry that has grown up to protect children. The character Norman shows how someone can be very efficient in social work at tick box exercises but have never have anything to do with actual real children! In this sense the book is a critique of our contemporary society's attitude to child protection that sees the only way to counter evil  to be through bureaucracy. The argument goes that evil will not be possible if there are enough checks and procedures to safeguard against it but this book shows that evil can always a way through the most dense bureaucracy.

The novel also has a political dimension as a key element of the plot depends upon the Home Secretary not wanting to lose face through admitting what has happened in secret. He wants to be seen as a clean politician so he can be next prime minister.

There is also a supernatural element to the novel. Some of the major characters have pseudo-religious visions, and hear voices which are totally inexplicable to other characters in the book. They end up being regarded by them as insane. Several of the characters in the book have names of characters from the Christian bible but these are mostly ambiguous to the plot.

The plot has a believable villain (a socio-path who is probably also on the autistic spectrum) whose viewpoint and actions seem very logical in his own mind.

There are two weakness in this novel. The first is the weak characterisation. The lost boy's mother, Mary, disappears from the narrative almost as if the author didn't know what to do with her. Pippa, the leading female in the story is very much a one-dimensional character who never develops. We end the book knowing very little about her despite the crucial part she plays in key parts of the narrative. Secondly, the book suffers from some confusion as there are many points of view. The result is that at certain points dramatic interest is diminished.

Overall this is an excellent, imaginative and compelling story. The middle section especially is particularly gripping. Towards the end I became very annoyed with the establishment and their attempts to manipulate the outcome. After the climax there are still over forty pages in which the author tidies up the loose ends. The very different style to Torday's previous novels may alienate some readers who've got used to the cosy if somewhat manic environment that he created with the more loveable characters there. This is a much darker place and the events that unfold are also much more serious. Child abduction is a particularly nasty, painful subject and overall it is explored with sensitivity. Adding a supernatural element to this confuses the genre of the fiction and could give the reader emotional overload! However, I believe that the book could make a very good film.
Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Amazon.com: Five Tales of Mystery and Magic - Coffee time short stories eBook: Jean de Beurre: Kindle Store

You can get your copy of my novel "Capcir Spring"by clicking HERE if you are in the USA or here if you are in the UK  Thank you

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