Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose and poetry

Archive for the tag “Literary fiction”

Review: Feeding Time by Adam Biles

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This début novel is possibly the quirkiest one I’ve ever read. It’s set in a care home from hell, Green Oaks, which is directed/neglected by Raymond Cornish, a middle-aged guy who needs serious therapy himself and spends most of his time ensconced in his office, masturbating and leching over a teenage girl he can see out of the window at the bus stop most days and with whom he’s determined to get his end away.

The residents of Green Oaks suffer from dementia in varying degrees. Their elected commander-in-chief is someone who calls himself Captain Ruggles, having constructed from his delusions a complete history of his heroic actions in the war. He’s a wonderful character who you can’t help but applaud for his constant rebellion against the Care Friends (Carers) whom he believes are Nazis controlling the prison camp of which he’s an internee; hence his frequent attempted escapes.

The Care Friends are total pieces of work, especially with their Supervisor off his head on drugs most of the time. Of course the title “Care Friends” is a sick joke, as they are the worst enemies of the residents, and this is no delusion on the part of Captain Ruggles.

Adam Biles writes in a vivid and faultless literary style that plays on all the senses: in fact, his quality of writing is excellent. However, I decided to award his novel four rather than five stars for the following two reasons.

My first problem with the story is that in the real world, I cannot imagine a care home going so off the radar that it isn’t subject to regular statuary inspections. In the case of somewhere as bad as Green Oaks, at the very least it would be subject to warnings to improve followed by unannounced inspections, but more likely it would be a candidate for instant closure. As for the residents’ relatives, it seems too far-fetched that their visits are so rare and that they are so easily conned by the annual “show”, when the Care Friends give the home a temporary face-lift for their benefit.

My second problem is that there is too much preoccupation with bodily functions. Yes, I know that people suffering from dementia lose control over their bowels and bladders, and can become generally disinhibited in their behaviour, but there is just an overdose of excrement of one kind and another. Also, there was one chapter in the book about a rotting corpse, where things became so gross that I had to skim read a number of pages, and skim reading is something I rarely do. So I feel bound to warn readers, do not open this novel when eating, as you will definitely lose your appetite fast.

Would I read another novel by Adam Biles? Yes. I love his originality and his fluent prose, plus, I think that if he keeps writing, he’ll be a serious contender for a much-coveted literary prize sometime in the future.

As a footnote to this review, I feel compelled to give a special mention to the limited edition that is in my possession as it’s a wonder to behold. The publishers, Galley Beggar Press have produced a book that is simple and yet classy in design. I love the minimalism of the soft back black dust jacket with green interior, the blurb, and the author’s bio. There are also some wondrous, surprising, and fun black and white illustrations by Melanie Amaral and Stephen Crowe throughout the book.

Please note that the limited edition described above, I ordered direct from the publishers, Beggar Galley Press. However the mass-market paperback and Kindle editions for sale on Amazon (UK) & (US) are green, although the green paperback edition is also available direct from the publisher.

Review: The Woman and the Ape

The Woman and the Ape
The Woman and the Ape by Peter Høeg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel deserves ten stars, rather than five. Being a huge fan of Peter Høeg’s work, you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon an edition published in 1997 of The Woman and the Ape. I’d never heard of the novel before, but the fact that my favourite Danish author had written it and the cover was suitably quirky (not the one featured here, but far better), I couldn’t wait to get home and start turning the book’s yellowed pages.

The experience was like entering a different world and being amazed at every corner turned, the beauty of the writing, the intensity, often the wit (I laughed out loud many times), the total daring of the author to write something so controversial and anti-establishment. Yes, my mouth dropped open a few times. Thoughts entered my mind such as “whoa, he’s actually getting away with this”, “this book must be banned in some countries”, “only the Danes could be this quirky”, and “how can he make something that’s so taboo seem erotic?”

To say too much about the story would be to issue too many spoilers. The twists, turns, and surprises are part of its charm and excitement. I just love the main character Madelene, who’s Danish, although the story is set in London. At the start of the novel, she’s a secret alcoholic and a decorative wife to be wheeled out at the end of each day, to play her part in sweetening her husband’s evenings and nights. It’s a part she plays well at first, until she meets an ape (not an ordinary ape, mind you, but quite an exceptional one). And so the escapade begins, full of high jinx and dare, moments of extreme tenderness, the full works.

For every answer this novel gives, it poses twenty questions more. I keep having to remind myself that it’s a fable, yet one that my mind keeps returning to. I’ve driven family, friends, acquaintances mad trying to persuade them to read it. They look at me as if to say, why would I want to read a novel about a woman and an ape? And I can’t tell them too much because to do so would take the thrill out of their reading experience should they succumb to my pleas.

Many contemporary readers seem to hanker after long and longer novels. In other words, more pages, better value for money, but this isn’t always the case. Long can mean rambling, in need of editing, things better said in fewer words. The Woman and The Ape is a short novel (229 pages in the edition I read). The writing is tight, disciplined, and flawless, literary and yet totally unpretentious and accessible.

If you’re not broad-minded and are easily shocked, then this isn’t the novel for you. For those who love anything thought-provoking and are in possession of an extremely quirky sense of humour, then I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It’s quite superb and unique.

Peter Høeg, you are the best!

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