Micro Reviews (April 2020)

Posted by Paul Samael on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 Under: Book reviews
What Was Lost, Middle England and The Quantum Spy

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

I really enjoyed the first section of this novel – which is set in the 1980s and features an eleven year old girl, Kate, who’s obsessed with becoming a detective.  It reminded me a little of an excellent self-published novel by Stephanie Newell called The Third Person, which I reviewed here.  Kate then disappears in mysterious circumstances.  The middle section jumps 20 years ahead and introduces us to Kurt and Lisa, who appear (initially) to have no connection to the characters in the first section.  Both are in dead end jobs in the shopping centre which was one of the last places where Kate was seen before her disappearance.  For me (and quite a few other readers, to judge from other reviews), the novel lost a bit of momentum in this section, which it never quite recovered until towards the end.  But the quality of the writing kept me going and the various threads left hanging when we leave Kate are picked up again - so don’t get too frustrated at the sudden jump in time and shift of focus to a new set of characters.  Jonathan Coe (see below) is also apparently a fan – not surprisingly, perhaps, given the novel’s Birmingham setting. 

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

I’ve found some of Jonathan Coe’s more recent novels a bit of a mixed bag, but I felt he really nailed it in this one.  I’d particularly recommend it to any non-UK readers wanting to get a better understanding of Brexit – which is what the novel is primarily about.  Coe homes in on how whether people voted Leave or Remain was not (for the most part) determined by the actual issues at stake (like the pros and cons of EU membership vs the merits of having maximum sovereignty); it was really all about identity.  That is not in itself a particularly original insight and the novel could easily have become an exercise in crude stereotyping – but to my mind, the subject matter is handled with sufficient nuance and sensitivity to avoid that charge.  It does feature various characters from Coe’s Rotters Club series, but I’m not sure you necessarily need to have read those to appreciate it.

The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius

Thought-provoking thriller about US government attempts to keep quantum computing technology to themselves (essentially by buying up any promising-looking research before anyone else gets their hands on it) – and Chinese attempts to steal it.  No idea how accurate it is but to my untutored eye, it felt like a realistic take on the subject. It was also interesting on the psychology and management of intelligence officers – in particular, how a feeling of having been overlooked by their own side can make them vulnerable to overtures from the opposition.  But if you like lots of car chases and explosions, this probably won’t be your thing.

UPDATE 3.2022:  On the strength of this one, I've since read a couple of other books by David Ignatius ("The Director" and "The Paladin") but didn't feel they were up to the same standard.  They felt more like run-of-the-mill spy thrillers and although there were some interesting ideas, they weren't as well executed.  "The Director" wasn't bad, but the characterisation in "The Paladin" was both lazy and cliched and some aspects of the plot struck me as highly implausible - so overall, a big disappointment. This is a great shame because in "The Quantum Spy", I felt that the author was exploring some relatively new territory for espionage fiction.  He also managed to craft a compelling and accessible story out of a subject - quantum computing - which could easily become a turn-off for those of a less nerdy disposition (even though fairly obviously, the winner of the race to build the best quantum computer stands to make some pretty big gains- so there is a lot at stake).

In : Book reviews 

Tags: "what was lost" "catherine o'flynn" "middle england" "jonathan coe" "the quantum spy" "david ignatius" 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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