Monday, February 07, 2011
More Than You Can Say
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $39.99)
Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino
Paul Torday writes eccentric stories about damaged men. His big hit was his debut Salmon Fishing In the Yemen, which was darkly and dryly humorous. Since then each subsequent novel seems to have become darker and odder. This latest has a different feel to it – sort of a modern-day Boy’s Own adventure that is totally intriguing.
Richard Gaunt however is in many ways the typical Torday character – he frequents a private club in London and moves among the type of people who own country estates. A former, soldier he’s scarred by his experiences in Afghanistan and struggling to return to normal life and relationships. Unemployed, Gaunt spends his days racking up huge gambling debts and drinking heavily. His story begins late one night with him accepting a wager that he can walk from London to Oxford by lunchtime the next day.
Gaunt sets off in full evening dress only to be sideswiped by a Range Rover en route and forced into the car. He finds himself taken prisoner in a country house where the avuncular yet sinister Mr Khan offers a strange proposal – he’ll pay Gaunt ten thousand pounds if he’ll marry a girl called Adeena so she can get UK residency. Feeling he has nothing left to lose, recklessly Gaunt says yes.
Very soon he begins having protective feelings for the mysterious, beautiful Adeena and goes on the run to help her escape the dreadful fate he assumes Mr Khan has in store for her. Of course, things are far from the way they appear and – while I won’t give away the plot –the final pages of the book are as dramatic and pacey as any action thriller.
Torday’s fans may not instantly warm to this novel. It’s fairly didactic in its anti-war stance and has less of the psychological subtlety or quirkiness we’ve come to expect. Gaunt himself is far from the most attractive character – self pitying, self destructive.
And yet I did like More Than You Can Say. Despite the implausibility of the initial set up, I think it’s the most honest of Torday’s books. His writing is spare and pithy, he doesn’t fail to surprise us and, as always, he’s produced a page-turner. You might not like Richard Gaunt but you’ll want to know what happens to him.
is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review was first published on 6 February, 2011.