"Poignant and uplifting"
I had never heard of this book, but chose it because it seemed to be about walking, something I enjoy. The book was not at all what I was expecting, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Much of the book is very poignant and sad as it reveals quiet desperation behind seemingly ordinary lives. I was immediately caught up in Howard's mission and willing him on every step of the way. The end was very satisfying, suggesting that it is never too late for redemption and hope for the future. I found it very uplifting. I would recommend this book to anyone as a very worthwhile read.
"What J K Rowling thinks of Muggles?"
There's a lot about this novel that's admirable, but also things to criticise.
There are a lot of characters and a lot of story lines which are deftly handled. The characters are recognisable types and well drawn, but they are so stereotypical. Not everyone living on council estates is into drugs, theft, truancy and teenage pregnancies and, believe it or not, some of them can speak proper English. The inherent social comment was so clumsy it is hard to take seriously. The message seems to be that if you come from such an estate you are bound to have a horrible life, whether it's your fault or not.
The writing is competent, though I wouldn't say it is fine prose. There are a number of odd images. Something likened to a fluttering foetus is one I can remember. Do foetuses really flutter? There are other meaningless images that jar. I wasn't offended by the swearing in the novel, and some of it may be true-to-life, but the overall impression is that the author is trying to prove something, like an adolescent trying to act like a grown up. It is often self-conscious and exaggerated.
I think the central idea of the novel is brilliant - the impact of the death of one character on many others. It is clever and the structure of the novel supports it well, but you don't really get a three-dimensional picture of a small town, just a collection of, let's face it, not very pleasant characters. In fact, I found the all the characters so unlikeable that I was convinced Barry would be revealed to have been corrupt and a paedophile before the end. I didn't find the end very satisfying and wasn't convinced anything would be different afterwards.
I'm not sorry that I chose the book. Even if it had been by an unknown it would have been OK. It was a bit more interesting because J K Rowling has only written children's books before. One thing I will say is that if this is her view of us lesser mortals from her elevated position, she needs a good dose of reality.
I am baffled by the runaway success of this novel. Many of the characters are uncongenial and I found it difficult to care what happened to them. The very thin plot was overstretched and the book was too long to the point of tedium. Despite a few topical references, to Nelson Mandela or the invasion of Iraq, for example, Em and Dex seem to inhabit a vacuum that bears little relationship to the real world. The death was presumably meant to engender sympathy, but it just annoyed me because it made all that long-winded angst pointless. The book left me cold. I must congratulate Anna Bentinck, though, who read the book very well.
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