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The Haunting of Henry Twist: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2017 Hardcover – 6 Jul 2017
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Praise for Rebecca F. John:
'These stories come from a deep, soul-like place of vitality, warmth and beauty... a prodigious writer of great intelligence and talent(Roshi Fernando)
Rebecca F John's prose is vivid, sparkling with intelligent observation. (Sarla Langdon Swansea Bay)
With great sensitivity and against the rich backdrop of 1920s London, Rebecca F. John draws us into the intimacy of a tight circle of friends reeling after the unexpected death of the ebullient Ruby Twist. The book explores how, in an attempt to find solace, grief makes us vulnerable and allows for the contemplation of previously inconceivable possibilities. There are mysteries at the heart of this novel that are wonderfully compelling, while the psychologies of individual characters are so beautifully drawn - always very human even if not always admirable - that by the book's end I felt haunted by their departure. Quiet, moving, and guaranteed to leave an impression, The Haunting of Henry Twist is a tender, charming gem of a book (Clare Wigfall)
Is there a love so powerful it can bring someone back to life? Rebecca F. John's debut novel about how our longing for a soulmate can bring us to perfect happiness or desolationSee all Product description
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Some nice writing along the way, but a story poorly put together.
The story opens with tragedy - a young pregnant woman is killed by a bus. Her husband is left literally holding the baby - and in the 1920s single fatherhood was not something that was encouraged. He encounters a young man who is down on his luck, and becomes convinced the spirit of his wife may be possessing the man. Meanwhile, the wife of his best friend has been in love with the new widower for some time and hopes that the way is now clear for her to make a move.
The novel captures the spirit of the 1920s although I'm not sure the enlightened attitudes to homosexuality are realistic for the era (sadly). But the depictions of the parties and the 'bright young things' seem in line with what I know of the period. There are some interesting characters here, particularly the embittered Miranda who lusts after her friend's husband to fill the void in her own life, and the rich old man who surrounds himself with young people to curb his loneliness. In fact loneliness is an important theme in the novel and is shown in different settings.
Overall it's not a bad book and the writing is good, and there's enough potential here for me to consider another book by the author. Had it cut down its plot threads and focussed on one or two and expanded them, it would likely have worked better. But it was still a decent read.
Although the story deals with the devastating pain of various different kinds of loss and the consequent tangles that ensnare the characters, I was able to enjoy the book without finding it bleak because it was based on love. Love which gave such pain, grief and misery, yes, but underneath that I felt securely held by the storyteller that whatever happened love would be the most compelling aspect through all the misunderstanding, deception and hurt. I found her characterisations vivid, emotionally perceptive and natural, dealing with beauty and individual flaws in ways that gave them intensity and complexity.
There were a few things I found a little hard to believe for example outdoor parties were held in the early months of the year where seemingly under-clothed people sat around Monty’s garden. I found myself shivering at the thought. There were some other plot weaknesses too, but overall I found them minor compared to the enjoyment of immersing myself in such gorgeous prose. I look forward to future work from this excellent writer.
It did take a while to really draw me in, but once there, I was hooked.
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