Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Life Assistance Agency - Thomas Hocknell

‘Bless’ was the first word that came to my mind as I started to read this book. ‘Bless’ for a debut novel and that indefinable force that pervades a writer’s first work and fills me with an emotion that is equally indefinable. Then I ceased my blessings because this guy means business!!

It’s going to be a difficult one to review without giving too much away. And if you are going to read it, which I’m sure you are, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Other reviewers have offered comparisons with Dan Brown but for me I was reminded fleetingly of Douglas Adams who surely has to be an influence? But also of Susanna Clarke’s Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange in terms of the mood and situations created. 

This is a deceptive book. On the one hand it is a witty, contemporary adventure story but on the other there are some supernatural and spiritual notions to be explored. The diary entries of the excursions into Elizabethan Europe were authentic and well paced enough to complement the present day narrative. I think it was these diary entries that so firmly reminded me of Susanna Clarke’s story. 

The relationships between the sets of male characters offer an interesting parallel which I like to think was intended rather than accidental. Historical mirrors almost. Without wishing to offer any smattering of sexism the female characters were functional rather than engaging and whilst in some situations the latent feminist in me would be strongly objecting it does seem to work here and I wasn’t unduly offended.

I have to say I did see part of the final denouement and the clues were all there for the taking. That usually makes me feel pretty smug. But the other part I didn’t see until too late!! There was something satisfyingly complete about the entire story. which I didn’t anticipate initially. 

This isn’t a book I would have selected to read left to my own devices. Nudge Books offered it to me as a maverick choice and maverick is a good word here. This is a maverick book. And I was blessed to have had the opportunity to read it.

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