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on 12 December 2012
Jonathan Taylor's first novel, Entertaining Strangers (Salt Modern Fiction) is a very assured and entertaining novel, whether you are a stranger to his work or not. The endnote tells us something of the genesis and it might be worth reading this first, but either way the novel plunges us head first into a world which is both immediately recognisable (who of us has not drunk Vermouth for breakfast?) and utterly alienating. The characters, particularly Edwin and his semi-estranged family, are sharply drawn and their world-that-is-going-nowhere-slowly is chillingly and comically believable. But deepening the impact of the novel is Edwin's (and perhaps Jonathan Taylor's) obsession with ants, which opens each chapter and throws the human world into sharp relief. And this relief - although relief it is not - is thrown into sharper relief by the fate of an Armenian girl in Smyrna 75 years previously; ants/people... people/ants: suddenly the world and its grubby history is refracted through the chaotic lives of a small group of Midlanders. This is the novel's triumph, to explode a moment in history through the prism of a bunch of no-hopers in late twentieth century England. A good read, a powerful story, fiction with an intellectual kick. And not a taxing novel, although there's nothing wrong with tax.
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on 22 December 2012
Taylor's literary novel is as vivid as it is enthralling. The poetic prose depicts an unlikely beauty through the bleakness of the novel's setting. The sense of place (namely, the dilapidated and chaotic home of Edwin Prince and his New-Age-Gothic landlady), rings true. Taylor captures a fascinating array of social misfits; each one comic, charming, yet paradoxically, isolated by their own pain and living on the fringes of society.

The main protagonist: the homeless Jules, whose disturbing past cleverly haunts the text throughout, is drawn irrevocably to the eccentric Edwin. She is essentially a tragic character, for whom there seems to be little hope: reliant, as she is, upon the aforementioned who is self-obsessed and stuck between two worlds: the intellectual and the everyday.

Despite Edwin's attempts at escapism via his obsession and study of ants and through the grandiosity of his own intellect; the banality and baseness of his everyday life encroaches, creating a juxtaposition that adds to the novel's vividity, poignance and humour.

It is also a novel that presents a world of inversions: where success means avoidance; where misery is happiness; where 'Spring is the new Winter'. Yet still the characters make attempts to escape their situation. This push and pull of the positive and negative is echoed through the unusual theme of music: major and minor; happy and sad; concordant and discordant, to which the characters are fascinatingly drawn and repelled by, according to their fears, their beliefs and their emotions.

Incorporating an eclectic mix of intertextuality, this novel has strong philosophical undertones running parallel to the plot, yet it still attains the important balance between complexity and accessibility. Littered with comic irony and hilarious one-liners, this novel is full of 'Entertaining Strangers'. Highly recommended.
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on 8 January 2015
Strikingly surreal, with a metronomic tick echoing throughout the vivid narrative, this is one of the few genuinely original novels published in the last few years. The protagonists are larger than life, so much so that I couldn't help feeling that I was going to trip over one of them as I walked past my front door. The psychology of despair and nihilism is brought sharply into focus, drawing the reader's attention to the hilarity and tragedy of painfully mundane existence gone peculiar.
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on 14 August 2013
Edwin Prince, the last of the English gentlemen, invites the homeless narrator Jules to his house so she can take a bath, eat frozen food and drink Vermouth. In this highly original novel you will learn everything you need to know about ants. A literary novel that sings off the page, Taylor explores high culture and creates his own ant philosophy for interpreting the world.

This book is very hard to put down and for that reason I think this book will be appreciated for a long time. I would recommend this novel to anyone looking to read something truly original. After reading Edwin's story you will find yourself reaching for a glass of vermouth and ordering an ant farm online.
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on 3 February 2015
It took me a while to get through this - not because it was hard work, but because I was reluctant to finish. I was laughing out loud within the first few lines and it's a very funny book, but so much more. The writing is immediate, engaging, twisty, smart, touching and with constant switches between light and dark, I was sucked into the story of this weird bunch of people, in their horrible, rubbish-strewn, dust-laden home. I loved the music puns, and Edwin's rants. I loved the New Age landlady. And I learned things too. About ants. About Smyrna. I've bought it for other people, because I think they'll love it as much as I did.
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on 12 May 2015
I thought this was beautifully written, very vivid and it completely sucked me into the characters' world. I loved how the author showed the effect of past terrible actions on people many years later - as well as the many analogies throughout. A smart, thoughtful book but also with a huge amount of humour. Absolutely worth reading.
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on 24 August 2014
Purchased as a gift, so I cannot provide meaningful review.
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