The Blackhouse by Peter May

[edit: Actually, let me start by saying that this might contain spoilers about this book and A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – depends what you call spoilers but wanted to warn you]

Let me start by saying I love India Knight’s writing, at least the columns and the couple of books I’ve read (the ones on thrift and shopping).  I can’t comment on her novels, haven’t read them – I’d be surprised if they don’t have the same lovely writing, but I don’t like those sorts of novels.  This isn’t to say they’re not good, but they’re not for me.  No bad thing; this would be a recommendation for some people.

What I do like are crime thrillers, set somewhere atmospheric and mysterious like Iceland or Scandinavia or Edinburgh.  I’ll read just about anything in that genre and, if not fully enjoy it, usually come back for more.  So when @indiaknight tweeted:

Crime novels fans: read The Blackhouse by Peter May. Set on Lewis in Outer Hebrides. Brilliant writing & so gripping that I can’t tweet.

I immediately bought it.  Over the Christmas hols I have been reading through the Detective Erlendur series by Arnaldur Indriðason.  They’re ok – formulaic in the sense that every book has the same structure and the writing or perhaps the translation leaves a little to be desired.  I fancied a break but not too much of a change and have an appalling tendency to impulse buy.

The Black House by Peter May

I hated it with a ferocity that a crime fiction novel should not inspire.  I think I disliked everything about it, but had to finish because I had to. I am like that.  It was whingingly dramatic whilst being curiously dispassionate.  The sheer amount of bad shit (for lack of a better phrase) that happened to poor, unsympathetic Fin, the protagonist,  quickly descended into unbelievability. About halfway through, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley came to mind.  I have never liked the final twist in that book and think it would have been a greater book without it. When the twist in The Blackhouse came (the final, “ha ha, didn’t see this coming, did you?” twist), I had to laugh.  Not that it’s funny, but, you know, I called it.  Go me!  By that point I was too tired by the trials and tribulations of Fin to care.  And it was all about Fin – the soulless parent untroubled in the main that his only son had died a mere four weeks before.  Maybe I just couldn’t get past that.

It is possible I would have liked the book some if Peter May had eased up on the drip feeding and attempts at emotional manipulation.  It felt a great deal like one of those people who answer the polite question “How are you?” with “Everything is fine, except.. oh. Nevermind.  <sigh> <sad eyes>”.  Good lord, either spit it out or suck it up, don’t try that bullshit with me.  After the millionth time, I wanted to punch somebody.  Does anyone enjoy that? Does anyone think “Ooh, what a fun game, string me along some more!” Maybe. However, I am not that type of masochist.

Thinking about it today, after I’ve calmed down a bit, I think it reads like a movie.  It could work as a movie, actually.  The reason we know about the lack of grieving in the book is that we are privy to what Fin is thinking and it’s not about his son.  It would be possible to keep the story as it is and have the actor act like it’s always on his mind.  In my mind this would involve that little “I need to fart” look that botoxed actors use to indicate, well, any sort of negative feeling.  That and swelling, sad music.  The constant barrage of bad things happening is par for the course in movies, so they’d be ok there, too.

So that’s my review.  I had thought I’d include books I’ve read in this blog every now and then – not anything re-read or anything not really worth going over.  I still love India Knight’s writing, of course, and her amazing sense of style, but think my taste in books differs.

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