Saturday, 10 September 2016

Perfume River - Robert Olen Butler

I have read three of Robert Olen Butler’s previous works and I enjoyed them immensely. But they were all Christopher Marlowe Cobb mysteries. They were deceptive works, easy accessible as historical novels of intrigue, war and adventure but written with an intelligence that I often feared might be overlooked. So I was delighted when Real Readers send me this copy of Mr. Butler’s new book. And it isn’t a Kit Cobb mystery which excited me even more.

 Butler takes themes partially explored in his previous works; relationships on several levels from filial, to lust, to love, to loyalty, to compassion and here they are developed with a more cerebral and philosophical style. War remains a kind of additional character, if you will. Here it is both the second World War and the Vietnam War. Possibly those aspects are more accessible if you are an American but that in no way dilutes the impact of the book for those of us of other nationalities.

It is  a poignant, sensitive tale centreing around Robert Quinlan and his wife Dorla. Their relationship is the catalyst to explore Robert’s family relationships and his past.
There’s plenty here for people to identity with; guilt, regret, secrecy, anger, disappointment and resentment. 

I hesitate to comment on the Perfume River of the title as it could amount to a spoiler which is to do a disservice to the book.

The characters are flawed and needy in some respects which allows the humanity of the book to shine through. The pace is languorous sometimes but it perfectly captures the way we sometimes hesitate in both our thoughts and our deeds. 

The writing style is competent and flowing. As a narrative it reminds one of a symphony where all the parts combine together as one for the finished work. The final denouement was not unexpected and I don’t think the writer intended it to be. All the clues were there. It was more of a case of how and when will this act occur.

This is one of the books that can leave you thinking long after you’ve finished it. And in my book  (no pun intended) it doesn’t get any better.

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