I've been trying to pin down yet again how I cope with violence in a novel and this time it's proving tricky.
We've been through it on here before.Once you've worked in the A&E department of a London, or any hospital you have a strong stomach and can cope with most things.Then a lifetime working in child protection and you build up more essential filters, people hurt and abuse children and I have to sit in the same room as them, talk to them, deal with it.
But I suspect it's that vocational, nursey, healing thing that does me no favours and has me in a terrible quandary when actually reading about torture.
It's the intent, the perceived reasons, the outcomes and the actuality, it near kills me.
I absolutely can't cope with it on the page or on the screen but Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith did come with a warning. I had politely refused an offer of the book from the publishers in the first instance on the basis that I physically can't read torture.Then they assured me it was only a brief bit of torture and the rest of the book was far too good to miss because of it, so I relented.
I mean I pride myself on tackling most books on here right?
So the book arrived, a signed copy, ugh, speech in italics, what's that all about, and I quickly shelved it out of sight.
Then I also discover there is a massive PR campaign backing this book, big wads of cash will place it everywhere and there has been a rare old fight to get hands on it, now I'm even more of a reluctant reader given all the fuss.
Do these books ever live up to the hype?
Do I want to be part of that?
Then Cornflower, that most genteel and delightfully insightful of bloggers, read it and had obviously coped, was dashing back to pick it up again and I thought in that case perhaps I'd just take a quick look.
What a dilemma. I hate to tell you but the hype is 100% justified and Child 44 is an unbearably brilliant read, but I don't think I can let any scruples around high profile bankrolled marketing endeavours stand in the way of bringing news of a great book. A young writer has written a very good first novel indeed and you'd better just decide to discover that for yourselves if you want to or leave it. I also can't bear to add to the subliminal trolley temptation at the checkout at Sainsbury's, so be prepared because that's where you will see this book perched this week.
Reserve it at the library, quick.
Ministry Security Officer Leo Demidov lives and breathes the communist manual to the point where he will even investigate his own wife. When a series of gruesome child murders are exposed, along with the inadequacies of a political system that is inacapable of even acknowledging the existence of crime, Leo has to make some tough decisions 'out of the rubble of his moral certainties'.
Some are of course made for him and he and Raisa find themselves deported to the Urals as Leo struggles to reconcile the harsh reality of a lifetime spent imposing the will of the regime alongside Raisa's observation that 'he never did anything without believing in it.' Now Leo really does have to decide just what he believes in.
The machinery of fear and terror in Stalinist Russia is cranked up to full throttle, trust no one, check those you do trust and it infiltrates every pore of this book.
'To stand up for someone was to stitch your fate into the lining of theirs.'
Italic speech apart you can't rest easy as you read because you are looking over everyone's shoulder for them, you even worry about the cats.
In fact you especially worry about the cats.
Tom Rob Smith's writing is exceptional; pacey plotting and narrative are breathtakingly fast, there is little time to sit back and take in the scenery here and I marvelled constantly at the filmic qualities of a book that I think has already been optioned.
Mel Gibson wanted it, Ridley Scott got it.
With all the deceit and counter-deceit, the plot twists and turns with alacrity but there was an incredible moment of sudden dawning realisation for this reader about two thirds of the way through the book. So stunned was I that after a bit of hyperventilating and a bit of back-tracking I was now desperate to see how this was all going to play out.
Eventually I reached the final hundred pages late one evening and mad-keen though I was to finish the book, I knew I wouldn't sleep a wink once I had. This needed to be early morning book finishing with a whole day to assimilate events. I picked up Diana Birchall's Mrs Darcy's Dilemma and went to Pemberley instead. Except I've started this Stalin Goes to Pemberley / Jane in the Gulags book in my head and I kept thinking what they'd make of it all. Most vexing.
So be reassurred gentle readers, if you are as averse to torture as I am, read pages 86-94 with your eyes shut, perhaps pages 369-370 too, just to be on the safe side, but don't miss out on a book as good as this just because of those pages or because of the massive hype or the italics. Rest assured I shall be first in the queue for the film...with a bucket of popcorn to sink my head into at the appropriate pages 86-94 / 369-370 moments.