Empire of the Sun has long been one of my favourite books, telling the story of Jim, a young boy held for years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. It was based on the author’s own wartime experiences, which explained how he could write so convincingly with a young boy’s voice.
For years I’ve put off reading this book, the sequel, because I didn’t want to risk changing my positive view of the first book and its author. Like Empire this book is fiction, but based on fact. It goes without saying that The Kindness of Women is exceptionally well written. The prose is powerful; the characters and scenes beautifully captured.
It turns out that I was right to be concerned. I found this a disturbing book with a number of characters that are hard to like. It overlaps the first in that it starts while Jim is still in the Japanese camp, but characters appear who weren’t mentioned in the first book and one very important event that seems central to Jim’s post-war life, isn’t mentioned in Empire.
Sex and death are the constant driving influences in Jim’s life, but there’s a lack of passion when dealing with either. We see, for example, his obsession with the female body he has to dissect at medical school and we have his efforts to become an RAF pilot, apparently driven by the wish to drop atom bombs on people. We do have an early identification of society’s impending obsession with the TV camera and a morbid fascination with car crashes.
For some reason with this book it’s much more important to me to know what is fact and what is fiction. To put my mind at rest I’m going to have to move straight on to Miracles of Life, Ballard’s autobiography published a few months before his death.
The book is available from Amazon The Kindness of Women
Is this Ken Follett’s worst book? As a fan I was pleased to come across one I hadn’t read in our local library, but what a disappointment it was.
Commune members live on a remote vineyard which is threatened by the building of a dam. They resolve to save their way of life by blackmailing the California state governor with threats to cause an earthquake. To back up the threats they steal an enormous piece of equipment used by geologists to cause vibrations in the ground. During the theft the driver of the mobile vibrator is brutally murdered. One of the many ludicrous aspects of the plot is that the local police don’t bother looking for this very slow moving vehicle. The central character, despite not having a single redeeming feature, is apparently irresistible to women. Unable to read or write, he once earned his living as a salesman. That must have been the only company in the world that didn’t require its salesmen to fill in order forms and submit reports.
So, we have a daft storyline peopled by unbelievable characters. Fortunately, Ken Follett has written many books that are much, much better than this.
The book is available from Amazon The Hammer of Eden
This is a tale of family relationships. The central character, Ian, and his two siblings were orphaned and all adopted by the now-elderly Harry and Ruth. Harry is in hospital and Ian’s sister demands that he takes his turn in caring for Ruth, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. There’s nothing maudlin here; family secrets are unpicked with verve and humour. At no stage did I feel invited to laugh at the Alzheimer’s sufferer, but I often smiled empathetically.
For me a well-written novel is one that is easy to read, involves me with the characters and flows smoothly along, carrying me with it with little effort on my part. A good book is one that doesn’t just entertain, but also makes me think. I found this a well-written, good book that I’m pleased to recommend.
The book is available for Kindle from Amazon Matchbox Memories – An Alzheimer’s Comedy