Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Good News Bad News - David Wolstonecroft

You do not join a book group without being arrogant enough to think that you have what it takes to criticise a writer’s work, which usually leads false-modesties like, “I wasn’t impressed – I could have written it myself.” And while nobody said that, our comments suggested that we thought it. (Well, mine did.) But with a membership that includes publishers, PR people, critics, reviewers and producers, perhaps we were justified.
Of course, being our first month, everyone in the group was keen to impress, or at least avoid the embarrassment of being kicked out for not being insightful enough. They say the London Review of Books is a formidable reviewer because of its quiet academic thoroughness, but the London Review is nothing compared to a book group on its first book.
Good News Bad News opens with two thirty-something losers working in mini-lab under Oxford Circus. One of them might be a spy. Why does the other one care? Is he a spy too? If they are spies, why are they in a mini lab? Who is the beautiful woman with the boring photos – is she a spy too? I am sure you can see the mystery developing. We could. We also saw the plot twists as they approached, and didn’t quite see the point.
David Wolstonecroft’s TV screenwriting heritage – he wrote Spooks – is obvious in the hanging suspense at every turn: literally. Every time you turn the page there is something about to happen. This is an author who is used to competing for his audience’s attention and he has produced the kind of book that makes you miss your station on the tube – or in my case, look up with a jolt, and dive through the closing doors one station too early. But it all gets a bit tiring after a while – and we all complained about how unlikely the story became. Towards the end of the book we were predicting plot twists by guessing the most unlikely turn of events, turning the page and… well there you go – the parrot actually was pining for the fjords.
We had all smugly agreed that it was a bit of a silly book that we could have written ourselves until one book-groupie pointed out that the entire work is a game of good news, bad news between author and reader. And suddenly we needed to go back to the start and read it again.
But none of us did.
Good news: your book has clever structure, lots of action and other boy appeal; bad news: the book group is mostly girls who saw action at expense of character and we did not spot the structure until it was too late.
Good news: it is a good book; bad news: it was merely good – and that’s not good enough for a book group’s first book.

Who: David Wolstonecroft
What: Good News Bad News
Who by: Hodder & Stoughton
When: January 2005
Why: It's a good book
Why not: It's merely good
How much: £10


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