Tuesday, May 10, 2016

THE SNOW KIMONO - Mark Henshaw.

Mark Henshaw published his first novel, Out of the Line of Fire, came out over 26 years ago.  Since then he's done a heap of detective novels (as half of the nome de plume J.M.Calder)

Out of the Line of Fire was the exceptional, disconcertingly smart and witty often rather beautifully lyrical murder novel.  There were many others but thank goodness he's found the path back.  The Snow Kimono is again written in that edgy, off-beat manner.  Henshaw roll together his retired police inspector, and two Japanese citizens -  one a footless, former law professor; the other a drunken womaniser. 

The story begins in Paris, 1989 with an unwanted visitor, a Japanese professor who knocks on the door of Inspector Jovert. Recently retired Jovert is lost, his mission gone.  He's lost his was entirely in a disabling accident, he's a surrealist metaphor of the fickleness of age and ate.  He's washed up but still the flannel you reach for on the bathroom floor.  Familiar but contemptible. 

There's time in the novel to explore Jovert's past service in Algiers, and that part of the novel is possibly the most engrossing of the book. Jovert struggles to clarify the maze of Algiers' alleys and basements, while trying at the same time to make sense of the moral maze into which he plunged in Algeria.  This is a journey through reality, it tests loyalty in many languages.  In Japan, as in Algeria, the characters spend a good deal of time fretting about actual sins of commission in the past and potential  sins of omission in the future. Henshaw's best line : "Memory is a savage editor. It cuts time's throat."  Memory stimulates, time is fluid, facts meld into fiction to understand reality.  But what s that, anyway?

Set both in Paris and Japan, The Snow Kimono is an intricate psychological thriller but it's also  a brilliant meditation on love and loss, memory and deception, and the ties that bind us to others.  It's also highly confusing at times and often could do with some challenges in the editing.  To write without compulsion is, of course, our ultimate aim.  But to write and write bullshit is not.  There are times when Henshaw borders on swerving into the brown stuff.  It's only his own 'google' compass that helps him avoid the inevitable. 

How to Set Fire and Why - Jesse Ball

This is the follow up by highly acclaimed author Jesse Ball, who wrote of A Cure for Suicide, is back with a more  singular, but still blistering novel, about a teenage girl who has lost everything—and, ultimately, will burn anything.

Ok, so Lucia's father's died ; her mother is committed; she's living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt.  Life's pretty stink.  Then she gets kicked out of school—again.  Her only touch points are a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries desperately to hide.  She spends most of her time on the bus commuting backwards and forwards to the asylum, to visit her mother.  She has one rule to live by Don't do things you aren't proud of.  So far this is the plot to The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Heathers, Juno and pretty much every misfit Teen film I ever got dragged to in the eighties.  Then it gets a bit more interesting.  Lucia discovers her new school has a secret Arson Club and she willing to do anything to be a part of it.   It's really the coming of age, belonging tale that all those movies were about - with the quirky twist and the anti- Yank high School sentiment.  Think of it as the 16 Candles for the post Columbine generation.  Oh, and yes, it's dark and hilarious in places.  Don't take any of it seriously and you'll be fine.  The plot runs a predictable course Lucia's life in the Arson Club, er,  is suddenly lit up. Her need to belong is almost as strong as her need to break everything to see how they work - or rather, don't.  And as her fascination with the Arson Club grows, her story becomes one of misguided friendship and, ultimately, destruction.  Predictable, yes.  Worth reading...mmmm.  No.