Murmuration Paperback – 12 Jul 2018
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'Murmuration is a magically woven tale of human connectivity, frailty, and the hold the past can have over the present. My promise of "just one more page" was constantly broken'
--Laura Parish "Novel Kicks "
'This is simply a splendid book. Full of convincing and realistic characters, their various voices convey not only their personalities but also a sense of time... Those who enjoy historical novels for their understanding of people of the past will find much to savour in this book'
--Julie Barham "Northern Reader "
'I have fallen in love with this book and its hypnotic and mesmerizing stories... I just didn't want it to end and already know that I will come back to it time and time again. This is a tremendous work of art, as Robert Lock creates the most vivid images with his beautiful descriptions in every single sentence. At times it is simple and direct and at others more exquisite and flamboyant. It is absolute perfection!'
--Sue Hampson "Books From Dusk Till Dawn "
'Murmuration is a deeply compelling insight into the human condition. A stark and honest debut'--Mari Ellis Dunning
About the Author
Robert began a degree in Applied Biology but decided science wasn’t for him. He worked in Paris and then as a tour director taking US students round Europe. He also began freelance photography and writing this novel. The novel is based on a seaside resort populated with characters he met over the years, through his job at the local newspaper. The title Murmuration is inspired from watching the starlings dance over and around North Pier.
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A prostitute’s murder under a seaside pier is the starting point for the series of linked stories, the actions taking place between 1863 and the present day.
The dramatis personae linked to the pier and the popular (though eventually fading) resort are vividly painted. Some are distinctly tawdry characters, some decidedly unpleasant and malevolent, some are principled. The motives for their actions and reactions are well analysed in a narrative which makes for a gripping, intelligent and unputdownable read.
Aspirant Victorian comedian Georgie Parr makes what, for him and his audience, could be described as “the big time,” sacrificing his conscience by base, tawdry humour, lapped up by the masses. On the surface he has a happy marriage but his secret lustings for the pier’s resident female contortionist betray a deeper malaise, which ends in tragedy.
Another character, Bella Kaminska is the difficult-to-like psychic whose fortune telling is as fraudulent racket. But when a tough-minded client gives her a hard time, the sympathy is very much with pier’s prophetess.
Where would a resort be without its local historians, in this case town hall archivist Colin Draper? Draper decides to re-examine the Victorian murder case in the light of a contemporary attack on a prostitute. His initially misguided efforts to work out what happened a century and a half earlier form a fascinating twist in the interconnected tales.
Mickey Braithwaite, a character who helps connect the stories is an unlikely hero. The first encounter with him is during World War Two when, despite his simplicity of mind, he becomes an honorary member of the Observer Corps, because of his uncanny ability to know what type of German aircraft are about to drop their bombs locally.
Throughout the five main stories there are recurring themes. One of them is the organic nature of the resort itself, its development, its decline, the kind of entertainment in vogue. A wider theme is the topic of time, and the interconnections/overlaps between the various acts, performers, pier staff and management – a case of history (almost) repeating itself.
Then there are the birds – starlings – rather than seagulls or pigeons….The title “Murmuration” means a spectacular aerial display carried out by thousands of starlings – from places such as Blackpool’s piers from time to time.
As the author, a former Blackpool Gazette photographer, explained in an interview last year: ““If anyone has seen the starling flocks in flight over North Pier they will remember, it’s an amazing spectacle and those murmurations are like a metaphor that runs through the book.”
The book has a both a filmic and rhythmic feel about it. There is no attempt at whitewashing the less salubrious elements of this resort, especially the more earthy aspects of the kind of characters contributing to the town’s entertainment.
Murmuration is the kind of story which would convert well into a several-part TV series. It is hypnotic, captivating and marvellously well crafted..
* Personal note: About 25 years ago I used to work with Rob Lock. I didn’t know him too well, except that he was (and is) a very good photographer. Having read Murmuration it is clear that he is also a great writer.
* Photos: Elizabeth Gomm
I enjoyed the pace of this book, the pace and the tension as certain characters see what no one else can see, feel unique atmospheres. Those who enjoy historical novels for their understanding of people of the past will find much to savour in this book, as the setting of the pier comes to dominate their different lives and loves. This is a book of many layers; in one sense the narrative works through a series of incidents in people’s lives, in another sense, the links backward and forwards in time mean that the links are ambitious, but always seen from the viewpoint of the pier. Thus deaths, miracles and reimagining of the site are seen in different lights by the characters depending on their complete life view. There are moments of touching faith, religious and other, as glimpses of the dead come to the living. There are some shocking moments in this book; it is not for the sensitive reader, but it can also be gentle and insightful.
This is a complex book of many elements, layers and points of interest. The characters are relatable, the incidents described memorable, the decline of the pier and resort moving. It is a book which involves every reader at different levels. I was glad to receive a proof copy of this book, and it is a fascinating read which defies easy description.
The mumuration in the title describes the behaviour of massive groups of starlings which fly together in groups of up to 40,000 making undulating patterns in the sky. They often fly over piers. Brighton and Aberystwyth being two of the best piers to view mumurations.
It is quite a sad book, but thought provoking and interesting. None of the characters have very happy lives and with the decline of seaside holidays and towns, it is certainly not a feel-good’ book.
It’s a very quick read and if you don’t want a ‘happy ever after’ ending, it’s the book for you.