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Book Review: High Fidelity

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Nick Hornby’s debut novel, High Fidelity, is the story of Rob Fleming, the thirty-something owner of North London record shop Championship Vinyl, who is going through the breakup of a long-term relationship. We join him as he tries to work out where he has gone wrong, going back over his five most memorable split-ups, some dating back to primary school.

The book is fundamentally about relationships, but it’s packed with twists and turns, lots of will he or won’t he, and it kept me guessing to the end. Rob himself is a likeable character, and throughout the novel I found myself rooting for him to find happiness. I loved the music and cultural references, and the top five lists he constantly compiles. A few times, I even looked up the tunes and listened for myself.

I’m struggling to find things I didn’t like about this book, but there aren’t any. After reading lots of dark fiction over the last few months, it was great to let my eyes flow over something light-hearted.

I recommend this novel as the perfect antidote to the current world situation. It’s sad in places, such as when Rob tries to come to terms with the idea that his ‘little boy notion of romance … had no basis in reality at all’, but overall it’s a great fun read that just might take you back to simpler times.

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Book Review: Luke and Jon

Luke and Jon by Robert Williams.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Luke and Jon is a debut novel by Robert Williams, first published in 2010. Luke and his father, struggling after the death of Luke’s mother, move to a remote run-down cottage on the fell overlooking the northern town of Duerdale. They soon meet Jon, the strange boy with a secret who lives in the next house on the fell, wears 1950s clothes, and goes to the same school as Luke.

The bleak rural setting reminds me of several novels I have read this year, including Devil’s Day and Pine, and this book stands strong beside them. Williams grew up in the same part of Northern England as myself, and his familiarity with life in East Lancashire comes across.

When I reflect on what I most enjoyed about this book, I have to say it’s the voice of the writer. The story is delivered with startling brevity and clarity, and while quiet, it still manages to fizz and resonate with emotion. The sense of place is strong, and all the characters are well drawn and believable.

There was nothing I disliked about it, which puts it among the top three novels I have read this year. At 50,000-60,000 words, it was short, which is unusual for a debut novel, but at the end I didn’t put it down feeling parts of the story were left untold.

I was completely taken by surprise by how brilliant this novel really is, and highly recommend it.

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Book Review: Pine

Pine by Francine Toon.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Pine, Francine Toon’s debut novel, is the story of Niall and his daughter Lauren, who are both trying to come to terms with the disappearance of Lauren’s mother. The novel is set in winter, in a small village in the Highlands of Scotland.

The cover describes this as a literary gothic thriller, and it certainly is that. The settings are bleak, including forests, ruins, and delapidated homes. Some of the key themes are equally dark, including bullying, alcoholism, and death.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Pine was the strong sense of place. This was reinforced by the realistic use (but not overuse) of Scottish vernacular in the dialogue. I also loved the detailed description and inner dialogue, and how I didn’t guess the ending.

There wasn’t much I didn’t like, but to nitpick, I felt a couple of scenes were a little too ‘supernatural’ for the rest of the book, and I personally found them difficult to believe.

Definitely a recommended read. Best enjoyed at night, while sitting in front of a wood-burning stove. Rain and wind should also be battering the windows.

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