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3. Andrew Taylor (2004), The American Boy

Amazon page here.

Not the sort of book I would normally read - it's a historical thriller, and proudly proclaims on the front that it was 'shortlisted by Richard and Judy's Book Club 2005'. Quality!

Nonetheless, I did read it, mainly because it was given to me for free at the Diana Wynne Jones day I attended in Bristol last summer, and also because the 'American boy' of the title is no less than Edgar Allan Poe. Like most people of a somewhat gothique persuasion, I spent far too much time reading Poe's poems and short stories while I was a teenager, so couldn't resist reacquainting myself with him through the pages of the novel.

Unfortunately, however, he is only a fairly minor character in it, and besides is a perfectly normal boy of about ten years old at the time the action of the story takes place (1819-20), more intent on avoiding his Latin prep, ice-skating and finding buried treasure (which, OK, is a bit Poe-ish) than obsessing over lost loves and the possibility of being buried alive.

The story was readable enough, but the book was very much plot-driven, rather than character-driven, and the plot was hammered home fairly heavily. In case readers were too stupid to pick up the various 'clues' scattered through the narrative, points of recap were offered every now and again to remind them. E.g. on p. 172:
"Dansey had an intuition, but it occurred to me that I had more substantial grounds for caution: the manner in which first Mr Frant and now Mr Carswall had entangled me in their affairs; the codicil that had cost Mrs Frant an inheritance; the mutilated cadaver at Wellington-terrace; and the severed finger I had discovered in David Poe's satchel."
The writing style was about as subtle, with metaphors repeated about three times each to ensure their significance was recognised. Oh, and the thing there in the extract with 'Wellington-terrace' instead of Wellington Terrace? Judging by an interview with the author appended to the back of the book, this is the result of a rather over-studied attempt at authentic early 19th-century language: "The book has a first-person narrative, and perhaps foolishly I wanted the language to be as authentic as possible." It was applied to every single street name in the book, and remained incredibly annoying the whole way through.

What did I gain from reading the book? Honestly, nothing much other than an undemanding wind-down at the end of each evening. Still, that's mainly what I want from my bed-time reading, so no complaints really. The book'll probably make its way to the charity shop before long, though - unless anyone here tells me they want it?


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
Heh heh. I have also read this book.. when packing for Tanzania last summer I sadly didn't leave out the books I had wanted to take with me so they were in storage instead. So I was offered An American Boy by Marcus who thought I might like it. I felt pretty much the same as you, in that it was enjoyable enough to read. But the plot was quite painful in places. And the end was rubbish. He couldn't work anything out for himself and had to be told various bits of the story by other people in order to work out what had happened!

I also read Once by James Herbert while on holiday, this one found in a second hand book sale while over there. It was pixie porn. Slightly odd, but fun.
Mar. 11th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)
Pixie porn? I know some people are terribly into that sort of thing, but - nooooooo!
Mar. 11th, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
yeeees. It was quite wrong. I quite enjoyed it though, it was a nice easily readable fantasy, even if the frequency of odd sex was a bit disturbing.
Mar. 11th, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)
You could try this (http://www.matthewpearl.com/poe/poe.html) instead? It's supposed to be quite good, though I should stress I haven't read it myself.

- Kharin
Mar. 11th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, that does look rather more up my street, and certainly has the great advantage of concentrating on the more macabre and mysterious end of Poe's life, instead of his childhood.

Nice to hear from you, by the way! I still have your erstwhile journal on my friends list, just in case you change your mind. ;)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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