It's stating the obvious but at 540 pages, Crusaders by Richard T. Kelly is a very loooooong book so I thought I'd post a mid-book progress report. As a self-acknowledged fan of the less-is-more literary school 540 pages to be honest makes me a feel a bit queasy on the start line.
Have I got the energy to stay the course?
So Crusaders has had to impress quickly and it has succeeded.
But how could a book possibly live up to such a fanfare as this,
'THE GREAT BRITISH NOVEL OF THIS DECADE' ?
I mean we've got a way to go with the decade yet, as have I with Crusaders , but I am strangely compelled by its cast of real people living real everyday British lives. If I'm making comparisons then this is Darkmans without the strange bits and it has me in its thrall.The writing is good and the non-linear plotting is keeping me nicely on my toes.
It's the 1990's and an Anglican vicar has set off to plant a community church in a run down area of Newcastle which is being targeted for regeneration and so far I'm identifying 110% with the whole book.The themes of government money ploughing into community regeneration are as apposite and relevant today as they were twelve plus years ago. Add in the return of manager Kevin Keegan to Newcastle United F.C. recently and not much has changed.
I've lost count of the number of times down the years I've been draughted in to discuss how to regenerate a community which is often in its turn steadfastly resistant to any hint of such a thing being done to it.
Change? Why? Who says? Very happy as we are thank you very much.
Regeneration was supposed to happen with the government Sure Start initiative and it's happening right now with Children's Centres across the UK and community children's health services are to be merged with them wherever feasible.Here in the UK Health Visitors are the only professionals who have unfettered though not legal access to all families with children under the age of five in their own homes so it makes sense... mostly.
Isolated rural communities present a unique challenge.
"Would you like to come to the Children's Centre drop-in?"
"Don't think I'm having anything to do with anyone else in this village because I'm not having them know all my business, we keep ourselves to ourselves."
In my humble opinion regeneration of a community can be assisted considerably by new housing, then at least you stand a chance of some new faces to turn the thing around if that's what you are commanded from on high to do.
So it is with a wry eye that I'm watching as the Revd John Gore gets sucked in and finds himself at the mercy of several different local factions.
Susan Hill has enjoyed it but I sense the general mood of the reviews is mixed, several quite disparaging, so I'd better not pronounce until I've turned the final page, but once I've checked the strength of the branch I think I may be prepared to go out on a limb with Crusaders, but will it be a contender for The Great British Novel of This Decade?
I think ordinary people (and I don't mean that disparagingly) are often the most tricky to get just right, realistic in dialogue and behaviour without slipping into the more obvious stereotyping. Everyone's life is unique and interesting in its own way but perhaps we perceive some as more interesting than others ? Picking up the minutiae of everyday working lives and making them interesting for 540 pages is quite a feat.
In fact is that nigh-on impossible?
I felt Nicola Barker managed it to the tune of 800+ pages with Darkmans and so far I think Richard T.Kelly has too, but we'll see.