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#TuesdayBookBlog THE STRANGE BOOK OF JACOB BOYCE by Tom Gillespie (@tom_gillespie) A trip into the depths of an obsession #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you a pretty special reading experience. Follow down the rabbit hole if you dare!

The Strange Book of Jacob Boyce by Tom Gillespie

The Strange Book of Jacob Boyce by Tom Gillespie

A spiralling obsession. A missing wife. A terrifying secret. Will he find her before it’s too late?

When Dr Jacob Boyce’s wife goes missing, the police put it down to a simple marital dispute. Jacob, however, fears something darker. Following her trail to Spain, he becomes convinced that Ella’s disappearance is tied to a mysterious painting whose hidden geometric and numerical riddles he’s been obsessively trying to solve for months. Obscure, hallucinogenic clues, and bizarre, larger-than-life characters, guide an increasingly unhinged Jacob through a nightmarish Spanish landscape to an art forger’s studio in Madrid, where he comes face-to-face with a centuries-old horror, and the terrifying, mind-bending, truth about his wife.

https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Book-Jacob-Boyce/dp/1925965341/

https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Book-Jacob-Boyce-ebook/dp/B087NJR1CR/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strange-Book-Jacob-Boyce-ebook/dp/B087NJR1CR/

https://www.amazon.es/Strange-Book-Jacob-Boyce-ebook/dp/B087NJR1CR/

Author Tom Gillespie

About the author:

Tom Gillespie grew up in a small town just outside Glasgow. After completing a Masters in English at Glasgow University, he spent the next ten years pursuing a musical career as a singer/songwriter, playing, recording and touring the UK and Europe with his band. He now lives in Bath with his wife, daughter and hyper-neurotic cat, where he works at the University as an academic English lecturer.

Tom writes long and short fiction. His stories have been published in a number of anthologies, magazines and e-zines, including Amazon Bestseller FEAR: A Modern Anthology Of Horror And Terror – Volume 2, Emdash Literary Magazine, and www.eastoftheweb.com He is also a regular contributor to fridayflash.org.

Tom’s writing has been described as terse, minimalist, hyper- realistic and ambiguous, where layers of meaning are conveyed using a concise and economical style.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tom-Gillespie/e/B0095R97CQ

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel. By the way, congratulations again on the 6th anniversary of the team! Keep going strong! In this case, I was sent an early paperback ARC copy, and I must say the cover is fantastic and the texture of the book is amazing as well. An experience in its own right.

This is the first novel by the author I’ve read, and I haven’t read any of his stories either, although I intend to check them out in the near future.

This is one of those books where the title truly suits the content. Yes, this is a strange book, a mighty strange book, and it is about Jacob Boyce. I don’t want to discuss the plot in detail (especially because I’m still trying to recover from its effect but also because I don’t want to spoil for everybody else), and I am not sure which genre it fits in. I started reading it and, at first, I thought it would be a book in the style of many recent novels, where there is a current mystery that somehow is linked to either an artwork, a book or another object that sends the main character traipsing along half the world chasing clues that in many cases are linked to the past (and History, in capital letters). The main character, the Jacob Boyce of the title, is a professor in Earth Sciences at Glasgow University who is researching his own theory, which he thinks will help predict earthquakes with more accuracy. So far, not so weird. But as we read, we discover that he has become obsessed by a painting, a baroque Spanish painting of uncertain origin (who the painter is, being the subject of some debate), which he somehow feels is connected to his theory. He becomes convinced that there is something peculiar about this painting, and it is to do with the application of a mathematical formula, which nowadays would be described as related to quantum physics. He becomes so obsessed by trying to find the links and the evidence to support his theory that he neglects everything else in his life: his job at the university, his marriage… And that results in his wife’s disappearance. He ends up in Spain, chasing both his wife and the painting, and there things get more and more bizarre. And I won’t say anything else about the plot. I’ve read some reviews that mention Vanilla Sky (I much rather the original Spanish movie, Abre los ojos [Open Your Eyes] by Alejandro  Amenábar), Sliding Doors, and Shutter Island. Yes, I quite agree, and, if I had to describe it, I’d say that some part of it felt almost surreal and hallucinatory, a bit like if I had found myself falling down the rabbit hole, while in some other parts, the sparse style and factual narrative made it seem perfectly grounded and realistic. An unsettling (even ‘uncanny’ at times) combination. Mindboggling.

If I had to talk about themes, I’d mention: obsession (I know many people who dedicate themselves to research can become sucked in, and suddenly everything starts looking or feeling as if it is related to the topic you are studying and you see connections everywhere), guilt, loss, grief, the permeable and tenuous frontier between sanity and madness, between dedication and obsession, between anxiety and paranoia… And also the tenuous separation between reality and imagination, between real life and our dreams and nightmares.

The main character, as mentioned, is Jacob. Although the book is narrated in the third person, we spend most of the novel inside the protagonist’s head, we see things from his perspective, and he’s a fantastic example of the unreliable narrator. I tend to read mostly ebooks these days, and because this was a paper copy and I couldn’t read it as often as I would an ebook, it took me longer to read than would be the norm, and I confess I had forgotten the brief chapter (a kind of prologue) called ‘Inhale…’ which was from another character’s perspective. I later realised this was Sylvia, the mother of Jacob’s wife, Ella, and she comes back at the end as well (yes, the title of that chapter is ‘Exhale…’). Therefore, Sylvia’s point of view and story somehow frames the whole of the narrative, (a rather long and rarefied breath of air) but, as I said, most of the book is from Jacob’s point of view, and Jacob is the only character we get to know, although how well is subject to debate, but I won’t go into that either. He is not a dislikeable character, but like many protagonists who have become obsessed with a particular topic or search (think of Ahab in Moby Dick), their obsession can make them difficult to fully connect with. You either get entrapped in it and can’t help but follow them down that hole, or you wonder what the fuss is about. In this case, I found myself totally caught in it, and it’s one of those books where you end up having no idea what place is up or down, what is real or not, and don’t know if you can trust or believe in anything at all. There are other characters, but because we see them only (or mostly) through Jacob’s eyes, I didn’t feel as if I had a grasp of what they were like, and sometimes, due to the way the story is told, we get different versions of the same character, so, which one is (or might be) the real one, if any?

I’ve mentioned the third person point of view and the frame around the story as well. There are brief fragments in italics, which seem to be told from an omniscient point of view, between the main parts of the book, but these are short. The book is divided up into three parts. Part 1 and 3 take place in Glasgow, and part 2 in Spain, first in Barcelona and later in Madrid. The chronological order of events appears clear at first (although some of Jacob’s memories intrude into the narration), but… Well, I’ll let you read it to find out by yourselves. I’ve talked about the writer’s style before, and although I’ve marked a lot of the text, as I’m aware the book was due to go through more revisions and corrections before its release, I won’t share any specific quotes. There are parts of the text in Spanish, and I know some readers have wondered about that, worried that they might miss important aspects of the book, but let me tell you that, being Spanish, knowledge of Spanish is not required to understand the book. In my case, it kept sending me down wrong paths and making me question everything, so don’t worry. I’ve also seen people complaining about the use of mathematics and talks of formulae and proportions. Don’t worry about that either. I found the ideas challenging and fascinating, but it’s not necessary to be an expert on the subject to follow the book.

The ending manages to pull everything together, and it left me with the feeling (not uncommon with certain books and films, and I’m sure you know what I mean) that if I read it again, many things I found puzzling at the time would fit into the right place now, and I would be nodding my head all through the second read.

So, would I recommend it? If you enjoy being taken for a wild ride and falling into the depths of a complex mind trying to make sense of his life, then you should read it. This is not a standard mystery, and it has more in common with a psychological puzzle or even one of Freud’s case stories, where what is at stake is not what we might think at first. If you don’t mind experimenting and trying something new and are not looking for a straight and comforting read, I recommend you to dare to try this book. It won’t leave you indifferent.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for their support, thanks to the author for this opportunity, and thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, commenting, clicking, reviewing, and remember to keep safe and always keep smiling!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview LIVE SHOW, DRINK INCLUDED – COLLECTED STORIES by Vicky Grut (@VickyGrut) @HollandParkPres) A diverse collection of beautifully observed and written stories #short-story

Hi all:

I don’t read many short-stories these days, but this collection is a must.

Live Show, Drink Included - Collected Stories by Vicky Grut
Live Show, Drink Included – Collected Stories by Vicky Grut

Live Show, Drink Included – Collected Stories by Vicky Grut

Fiction. Short Stories. For the stories in this collection Vicky Grut takes inspiration from a range of often ordinary situations and explores how easily things can go awry or take an unexpected turn. The stories veer from the realistic to the surreal, and nothing is quite what it seems.

To give you a flavour of what they are like here are a few snippets:

In “Rich,” two young people travelling towards Florence just after the Bologna bombing of 1980, decide to cadge a meal and a bed for the night from a girl they barely know. In the early hours of the morning, the atmosphere suddenly changes. They are in over their heads.

In “Mistaken,” an academic is mistaken for a shop assistant in a big London department store. When she reacts impulsively she finds herself in trouble. Help comes from an unlikely quarter–and for all the wrong reasons.

In “Into the Valley,” a woman tries to comfort her suffering mother-in-law on ward 19 in a small hospital in Wales. Underneath the ward sign it says, in English and in Welsh, “Bereavement Office / Swyddfa Profedigaeth.” There probably isn’t a ward 20.

Many of the stories have been shortlisted for awards and prizes over the years, including the Asham Award (twice) and the Narrative Magazine Contest in the US. Six of the stories were included in new writing collections from Serpents’ Tail, Pulp Editions, Duckworths, Granta, Picador and Bloomsbury, and two were published in the States by Harvard Review. The final story “Into the Valley” was included in the list of “Essays of Note in 2012” at the end of Cheryl Strayed’s edition of Best American Essays, 2013. Be prepared to not only be entertained but also taken by surprise when reading the fourteen mini-novels in this collection.

‘Some are dark and disturbing tales of lives viewed from under the mad end of a microscope, others are more of a glimpse of lives gone sideways.’ – Alexei Sayle

‘These delicious, dark, funny and affecting stories – reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor – remind us that life does not come with simple solutions and that often it is in the terrifying messiness that we are the most alive.’ – Tania Hershman

https://www.amazon.com/Live-Show-Drink-Included-Collected-ebook/dp/B07JK5HTQL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Live-Show-Drink-Included-Collected-ebook/dp/B07JK5HTQL/

Author Vicky Grut
Author Vicky Grut

About the Author

Vicky Grut was born in South Africa and lived in Madagascar and Italy before moving to England in 1980 to study fine art at Goldsmiths. She has worked in community arts, for a small independent publisher, as a freelance editor, in the London office of the New Yorker magazine, as a creative writing tutor and a lecturer in several universities, including the London South Bank University and the University of Greenwich. Her first short story was published in 1994 in Metropolitan magazine and since then her work has appeared in new writing collections and literary magazines around the world, including collections published by Picador, Granta, Duckworth, Serpents’ Tail and Bloomsbury.

Vicky was twice a finalist for the Asham Award. “Into the Valley” was listed as a Notable Essays of 2012 in Best American Essays 2013. “In the Current Climate” won the Holland Park Press “I is Another” contest in 2015. Her novel-in-progress Human Geography was shortlisted for the 2017 Caledonia Novel Award.

https://vickygrut.com/home/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of the book from the publisher. This has in no way affected the content of my review.

This is a great collection of short stories. The author has a talent for being able to create a vivid background for her stories and she also gives us a good insight into who her characters are and what makes them tick. I am mostly a reader of novels, and I am aware that sometimes, even after reading a whole novel we still don’t have a clear sense of who these characters are, so this is a skill I particularly appreciate. The stories are beautifully observed; we get to see what is going on through the heads of the characters and also the situation that develops around them. The stories share a variety of moments and events in the lives of the characters, seemingly chosen randomly, ranging from tales of job difficulties, to family relationships, illnesses, and even the death of some of the characters.

I didn’t find any of the stories weak, and I enjoyed them all, although some of them might be better received depending on the mood of the reader and personal taste.

I’ll briefly comment each one:

In the Current Climate. A quietly menacing story that although somewhat surreal and taken to extremes seems very apt in today’s job market and big companies.

Debts. In appearance a vignette of everyday life rather than a complete story, it beautifully conveys how our state of mind can be reflected and amplified by everything around us: interfering neighbours, children’s tantrums, and even the weather. Mundane, wonderfully observed and beautiful.

Downsizing. After reading this story, I don’t think I’ll ever think of audits and management books in quite the same way. A great combination of realistic insight into the workings of modern companies and corporations and the whimsy and imagination of people that can never be totally subjugated.

Mistaken. Retail therapy with a difference. An articulate and high-achieving academic discovers that prejudice is still alive and well, sisterhood can have different meanings for different people, and some artworks can be prescient.

An Unplanned Event. The story of a man who never felt he belonged anywhere and finally gets to feel accepted and loved.

Escape Artist. A young woman ends up violently trapped at home and realises that she is also trapped in her relationship.

Live Show, Drink Included. What starts at a seemingly seedy and slightly menacing location turns up to be a beautiful love story full of light humour and some of my favourite lines.

“If you cut me open with a little knife there’d be a print of her right there in the middle of me” (Grut, 2018, p. 86).

A Minor Disorder. Two young men travelling in South Africa in the mid-1950s with very different attitudes to the situation are affected by the atmosphere around them in contrasting ways.

Saucers of Sweets. A story of life imitating art, especially recommended to people in the book publishing business, with some precious quotes.

“A book should be like a saucer of sweets, each chapter brightly wrapped and inviting in its own right” (Grut, 2018, p. 100).

Stranger. A lyrical observational vignette about an episode that feels oddly familiar and can be read in different ways.

Rich. This story contains the germ of a whole novel, full of fascinating characters (I loved Ashley), a compelling background and enlightening insights. It also has a great sense of time, place, and atmosphere. Its open ending can be discomforting to some readers, but I found it liberating.

There is a quote that particularly resonated with me:

“People equate emotion with weakness…” (Grut, 2018, p. 132).

Visitors. A vignette of small-town life in Wales, containing sharp observations about family relationships and motherly love.

On the Way to the Church. A possible life-changing revelation comes at the weirdest moment and explains many things.

Into the Valley. Having spent time in hospital with both of my parents in recent times, this story felt particularly touching and true to life. It records the last ten days in the life of a woman, spent in hospital, from the perspective of her daughter-in-law. The longest of the stories, it captures the feeling of numbness and routine that can take over one’s life in such circumstances.

“Night shift, day shift, back again to the night. We are far away from the world. We are in the Valley. Deep In” (Grut, 2018, p. 166-7).

There are characters with similar or the same names in different stories, and there are also typical corporate speech expressions which appear in separate stories, so as we read them we might find some similarities or links between the stories included, but as the end note explains, many of the stories have been published before, have received awards, and can, indeed, be read separately. I was impressed by the quality of the collection and this is an author I intend to keep a close eye on in the future.

Grut, V. (2018). Live show, drink included. Collected stories. London, UK: Holland Park Press.

Thanks to Holland Park Press and to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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