Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paul Torday – Weidenfeld & Nicolson - $38.99

I reviewed this title this morning on Radio New Zealand National's Nine to Noon programme with Kathryn Ryan.

Paul Torday never ceases to amaze me. Here is a man who started writing after he retired, his first novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was published to widespread acclaim in 2007, in 2008 his second book, The Irresistible Inheritance of William Wilberforce, also created a stir, and now in 2009 we have his third and I think it is his best yet.

Torday’s lead protagonists in all three titles might well be described as dysfunctional, middle class, middle aged men. They are well drawn and rather unlikeable. All three novels though are totally different to one another with the unappealing main character being the only thing they have in common.

This new title appears at first to be the story of the rather boring and totally routine marriage of Elizabeth and Michael which survives financially on Michael’s inheritance.
Quite early in the novel however, page eight in fact, while the couple are on a holiday visit to Ireland Torday’s trademark tension is introduced when Michael looks at a painting in which there is a young girl in a green dress. Later when her returns to look at it again there is no girl in the painting.

On the way home to London Elizabeth notices that something has changed with Michael and later at home she finds anti-psychotic drugs in his bathroom cupboard.
It proves that Michael has been on strong drugs for much of his life and when he decides to give them up he becomes a very different person, attractive and outgoing and alive and for the first time in their marriage he becomes passionate and sexually active. He also becomes prone to occasional hallucinations including meeting up with the girl in the green dress. Alarm bells start ringing for Margaret, and the reader too I might add.
In an attempt to work out what has brought about the change in her husband Elizabeth starts asking questions which leads to the discovery that her husband’s life has not been all that it had seemed.

The story is absolutely gripping and I found myself unable to put it down. Torday very effectively employs the technique of having alternate chapters written in the first person by Michael and Elizabeth. And goodness he knows how to manipulate his readers!
Another winner.


Mary McCallum said...

Yes, he can be great this writer I gather - the second novel was rubbish though

Bookman Beattie said...

I think it is a bit unkind Mary to call his second novel rubbish. Several reviewers in fact have rated it his best.
Writing is an art form of course and like all art forms what appeals to one will not appeal to another.
I have enjoyed all three books to date from this talented and imaginative writer although I must say I especially disliked the protagonist in the second one - The Irresistible Inheritance of William Wilberforce.

Ursula said...

I thought this was his best book to date. I love that fact that his characters are almost a caricature of themselves. So clever and understated. Looking forward to the next one already. I couldn't put this one down!