Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator)

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Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator)

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Buy Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A suitably peculiar historical detail inspired this twisty, tricksy continent-spanning selection of love stories, but the novel really didn't deliver on its quirks.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: January 2021
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-1529402698

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Well, this looked very much like a book I could love from the get-go, which is why I picked my review copy up and flipped pages over several times before actually reading any of it. I found things to potentially delight me each time – a weird section in the middle on darker stock paper, a chapter whose number was in the 20,000s, letters used as narrative form, and so on. It intrigued with the subterranean voice a man hears in wartorn Dresden that what little I knew of it mentioned, too. But you've seen the star rating that comes with this review, and can tell that if love was on these pages, it was not actually caused by them. So what happened?

Well, an energetic start where we see the reason for the voice played out was all good. It turns out to be that of a young kid, Isaac, who flees from a Nazi soldier and hides in the basement of a pet bird shop that only he knows about, due to his father having been its builder. Our nonplussed avian retailer is bemused by the voice, but for all the sweets he's ordered to leave out at night, he gains months' worth of business advice. The two mismatched males survive the war, only to have a young woman latch on to them, whereupon the trio almost picaresquely get to be in Paris, in publishing.

And that's where the problems lie. While Isaac runs the world's worst publishing house, from the world's worst bookshop, he takes it upon himself to publish the book within the book that caused those off-colour pages I mentioned. And while I can well imagine it takes a lot of craft to write readably badly, this does not get it right. Yes there are some smirks to be had, and yes they are of a suitably different timbre to those we've had in Part One, but they're nowhere near enough, and so we're left with the ever-erratic chapter numbers (again, see above) to point out the ineptitude here.

And unfortunately, once I'd read that part, and we got back to the actual narrative, I found the shift back far too minimal – I was still hearing the 'so bad it's bad' voice in my mind. What we have in our hands tries to be nested like Russian dolls, or some fancy diagram of circular connections and suchlike, but all we get from that is far too many instances of being told the same thing twice.

Now I like a meaty bit of meta, but this was ultimately a disappointment. Intending to be a singular love story, where fallout of one love leads to another and another, it was not so much fallout as fall flat. Presented in an affectless (and effectless) style, we don't ever see any love story we would want to be part of, however often we turn the kaleidoscope and see the colours link up and split, link up and split…

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

If you fancy a peculiar love story with more of the unusual bookshop about it, then turn to The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George and Simon Pare (translator). We also wanted to love The Choke by Sofie Laguna but couldn't.

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Buy Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

Buy Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) at Amazon.com.

Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) Check prices, read reviews or buy from Waterstones. Waterstones currently charges from £2.75 for orders under £20, over which delivery is free. You may also click and collect from a Waterstones bookshop at no charge.

Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator) Check prices, read reviews or buy from Foyles. Foyles currently charges £2.99 (first class £3.99) for orders under £25, over which delivery is free. You may also click and collect from a Foyles bookshop at no charge.

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