My Name Is ..., by Alastair Campbell; A Possible Life, by Sebastian Faulks; The Elephant Keepers’ Children, by Peter Høeg
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My Name Is …, by Alastair Campbell, Hutchinson, RRP£18.99, 352 pages
“My name is Hannah. This is their story.” So begins Alastair Campbell’s third novel, which tells the story of a teenaged alcoholic. Each chapter is recounted by a different character who has been affected by Hannah’s behaviour, and the narrative builds into an affecting portrait of a bright young girl diminished by drink.
Campbell – who battled with alcoholism in the mid-1980s – writes with great skill and nuance. The voices are convincing and differentiated – from Hannah’s sister, who can’t help but imagine the worst as she fails to return home after a night out, to her school swimming coach, who laments her wasted talent.
The novel shows how the saturation of British culture in drink – “Every other poster, alcohol. Ads on the radio, alcohol …” – only becomes fully apparent to those who are trying to give it up. The achievement of this novel is to bring about a similar shift in the reader’s own perspective.
Review by David Evans
A Possible Life, by Sebastian Faulks, Vintage, RRP£7.99, 304 pages
A Possible Life is billed as “a novel in five parts” but it feels distinctly like two novellas and three largely unconnected fragments.
The book opens with “A Different Man”, an absorbing account of a soldier taken prisoner in occupied France whose reluctant role in processing Jewish prisoners haunts his demob life. The final and longest piece, “You Next Time”, set in America, explores the poor decisions an ageing rock star made over the course of his love life. Both are framed with regret, or melancholia, and draw you into their sharply observed characters.
In between are a vignette of 19th-century London poverty, a slight tale from rural France and, best of all, a domestic saga from late 20th-century Italy. Faulks has strong storytelling instincts and a compelling prose style, so much of this reads well, but the binding theme of difficult choices is insufficient to make these tales cohere into anything more than an impressionistic novel.
Review by James Urquhart
The Elephant Keepers’ Children, by Peter Høeg, translated by Martin Aitken, Vintage, RRP£8.99, 400 pages
The intense experiences of adolescence have been central to most of Høeg’s fiction, from his 1993 bestseller Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow to his most recent mystical thriller, The Quiet Girl. Over 20 years, his style has drifted from the slightly ponderous to what might best be termed erudite farce – pursuits around Copenhagen that make no pretence of plausible plotting but which are delivered with brio and comic charm.
This latest novel follows the escapades of 14-year-old Peter and his precocious sister, Tilte, in tracking down their parents – spiritual con artists and fraudsters who have mysteriously vanished. A possible jewel heist, arms dealers, clergy and amorous cops fill an exuberant if contrived plot sprinkled with moments of profundity.
Høeg’s eloquence is top notch but his flamboyant characterisation (which recalls the Scandinavian children’s classic Pippi Longstocking) may not be to everyone’s taste.
Review by James Urquhart
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