Book Reviews: Extraordinary Conception, Or Mightier Than Secrets

February 1, 2016

BY BRUCE DENNILL & DRIES BRUNT

 

Mightier Than The Sword by Jeffrey Archer                                   7

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman               7.5

Ms Conception by Pamela Power                                                     9

The Secrets We Keep by Jonathan Harvey                                      7

 

Jeffrey Archer’s latest, Mightier Than The Sword, is a family chronicle that follows the history of two English families and the challenges of being part of the British aristocracy. This makes for a number of mini-plots as Archer follows different family members. The author keeps up the suspense all the way. From boardroom to courtroom, from politics to financial wizardry, and  from the UK to Russia, Berlin and Washington, this family drama makes for exciting reading, keeping you guessing all the time and making you look forward to the next volume of the chronicle to find out how the plot continues.  Great reading. – DB

When did “museum” become a synonym for “outdated” or “fuddy-duddy”? Though the eponymous institution is only the jumping-off point for a much wider, multi-tiered story in The Museum of Extraordinary Things, it’s a fascinating – and in this case, disturbing – platform, used for both intellectual edification (in a twisted sort of way) and monetary gain. Hoffman taps into mankind’s shared enchantment with the macabre, beguiling or pitiful in the same way as Victorian authors did, bringing alive New York as it was at the beginning of the 20th century. It was, by this account, a very difficult place to make your way in unless you were the one of the few families with real money (unsurprisingly, those families don’t readily turn up in the “heroes” column here). Others are forced by circumstance or lineage to pursue less than salubrious careers and it is two of these folk – Coralie Sardie, daughter of the scheming impresario behind the museum, and Eddie, a Russian Jew who follows first some dodgy role models and then his heart – who are the protagonists in Hoffman’s story. The novel is about a romance, but not a traditional one. It involves adventure, real-life history (the author makes the horrendous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a centrepiece of her narrative), science, natural history and undefined magic. Hoffman’s evocation of place is fantastic – New York as it is now is well-known to anyone with access to mainstream media, so to gain an understanding, through the eyes of characters living there at the time, what the growing city was like over a century ago, is an absorbing experience in itself. Satisfying for many reasons, and entertaining throughout. – BD

Ms Conception is about the tribulations and jubilations of motherhood when dad is otherwise engaged most of the time. This is a tale of ordeal and triumph, revealing the inner thoughts and trials of a struggling mother, the family and societal sides of the situation and, in the end, thank heaven, some breathing space for the reader who is kept wondering – what the hell next? Written as a comedy about suburban life, raising kids from the breastfeeding to the spanking phase and having serious doubts about dad’s fidelity, there are parts that, I’m sure, most of us will recognise as part of our own lives. Written with witty style, this book nevertheless has a serious message aimed, perhaps, at dads who need to be especially caring in this phase of family life.  Give mom a break, you guys. Great reading – and good to learn at the end this is not the author’s autobiography. – DB

The Secrets We Keep is written in the best tradition of British humour with a touch of tragedy thrown in.  Mom, dad (as a missing person), a rebellious daughter and a more sedate elder brother appear on centre stage, each telling their own story.  The teenage girl talks in delightful “teen speak”, while the others fill suburban home life, time in a boys’ assessment home and existing on the streets of London with their own rich vocabularies. Various secrets keep interest alive right through to the end. The Secrets We Keep left me stunned and sad, realising that the consequence of making silly mistakes in life can be incredibly destructive.  This book combines rich entertainment with thought-provoking undertones. – DB

 

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