This is one of those books that was always destined to succeed. The publishing company wouldn’t have allowed anything else. Most writers hide themselves, plugging away solitarily, swallowing the loneliness until finally a book is produced. And then a select few people assist in polishing the manuscript before it is finally accepted or rejected. There are over one hundred people listed in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. Ergo, this is one of those books that was always destined to succeed. Whether the readers liked it or not. Thankfully, it does have some merits. But maybe not as many as we would have preferred.
This book has so many 4- and 5-star ratings on Goodreads that I was convinced there must be some sort of extraordinary twist at the end. There isn’t. It’s a well-written but averagely-plotted book. Anyone who has ever lived in a small Australian town where the landscape is brown more often than it is green will recognise the setting and the small-minded residents who think you can never be a local unless you were born there. But anyone who has ever read a crime novel will also recognise the formula. So I’m perplexed as to why there was so much hype.
Liane Moriarty is Australia’s ‘it’ author at the moment on the back of a string of terrific books and the success of the Hollywood adaptation of the New York Times bestselling Big Little Lies. And there’s a reason for that. She takes the ordinary and usually manages to make it extraordinary. But despite the readability of Moriarty’s writing, Truly Madly Guilty starts out ordinary and stays that way.
The problem with satire these days is that it looks and feels so much like the real world, particularly when it comes to politics, that it’s hard to tell what’s parody and what’s not. Ten years after Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was first published, that is the book’s primary problem.
Dr Alfred Jones is a fisheries scientist who works for the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence in the UK. When he’s approached by the representatives of a Yemeni sheikh who wants to introduce salmon fishing into his hot, dry, dusty, Middle Eastern country, he dismisses the idea of out of hand. After all, salmon require cool, well-oxygenated water, something not found in abundance on the Arabian peninsula. But the sheikh has seemingly endless amounts of money to throw around, so the NCFE figures why not funnel some of it into their coffers in exchange for Alfred’s services and he’s ordered to do everything he can to get the project off the ground (and therefore the money to come rolling in).
Welcome to the city of Newperth, a futuristic version of present-day Perth in Australia. The oceans have risen, the gap between the haves (the Centrals) and the have-nots (the Bankers) has widened dramatically and the homeless (the Ferals) are pretty much as they are today, misunderstood and shunned. Rosie Black is a Banker but she goes to a Central school thanks to her aunt Essie’s charity and dreams of being a space pilot just like her aunt.
One day when she’s exploring the ruins of the Old City with her Central friend, Juli, Rosie finds a box with a mysterious logo on it and some mysterious contents in it, including a comkey. When they plug it into the comnet at Juli’s house, it tells them a beacon has been activated and a retrieval team is on the way. Rosie yanks it out of the comnet but it’s too late. The events of the novel have already been triggered.
You have to give Michael Connelly credit – I don’t think he’s ever written a bad book. And for someone who’s written so many, that’s a genuinely impressive record. But the problem with many of his most recent efforts is that they’re like comfy old slippers – they’re reliable and familiar but there’s nothing surprising or challenging about them and sometimes what you really want is to slip into a beautiful pair of stilettoes just to experience something different.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye is more like two smaller novels than one big one. Connelly himself acknowledges this, referring to it in draft form as “an unwieldy block of a manuscript”. Despite the help of his editors, it still feels a lot like that. I kept wondering how the stories were eventually going to intersect but they never did. And when I read the acknowledgements at the end with the reference to the unwieldy manuscript, I realised it was something Connelly himself had struggled with while writing the book.
I picked this book up solely on the basis of the title, briefly considered giving it to my sixteen-year-old niece for Christmas, then decided to keep it for myself and buy her some perfume instead. It’s probably for the best. Because while the themes are important to me and I hope important to my niece (although how much time she spends thinking about feminism and marriage equality and domestic violence and rape culture compared with the amount of time she spends thinking about boys and clothes and her potential sporting career is not clear), they are couched in a writing style and language that I think she would have had difficulty deciphering. I had some difficulty deciphering it.
Words like “irreducibility”, “uncircumscribable” and “quotidian” are sprinkled throughout liberally. Even though I know what they mean, her use of them made me want to reach for my dictionary to make absolutely sure. The fluid and operatic way in which she writes almost disguises her meaning at times, detrimental to both the writer’s message and the reader’s understanding.