Truth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston

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Truth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kate Lord Brown
Reviewed by Kate Lord Brown
Summary: A lyrical exploration of the secrets we acquire in a lifetime.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 978-0755330546

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Caroline Wallace is not a happy woman. She has waited ten years for her lover to propose to her, and now just as he finally does, she has to go to Dublin to interview faded literary star, Desmond Fitzmaurice. Desmond promises his tale will be brimful of 'sex and violence', but Caroline has no idea of the mystery that lies at the heart of his story.

Johnston has a marvellous ear for colloquial dialogue, and 'Truth or Fiction' zips along. It is a short book – the perfect way to spend a few hours on a winter's evening. Caroline introduces herself by saying I like to keep things simple. Yes, indeed I do. Unfortunately for her, things are about to become very complicated. When her editor sends her off to Ireland, angry and frustrated Caroline has to put aside her own domestic dramas to cope with Desmond's. I wonder what I'm doing here? she asks herself.

As the story of the once-great writer unfurls in his own rambling memories and the partial recollections of his wives, you find yourself wondering what indeed is fact or fiction. You said you wanted me to tell her the truth, his ex-wife accuses him. What I want to know is, your truth or my truth? Johnston explores the vagaries of memory – Desmond's thoughts are as opaque and fleeting as the mist rolling in from the sea below his house. As Caroline is drawn into his shambolic and mysterious world she wonders whether to get out, run as fast as she could back to Notting Hill. The temptation was enormous.

The story is pacy, very character and dialogue-driven, (I can imagine it making a wonderful audio-book), and the prose has a musical quality to it. This is the first book by Jennifer Johnston I've read – she is a prolific and highly revered author in her native Ireland, and I'm amazed she's not better known here. She was won both the Whitbread and Evening Standard Best First Novel awards and has been shortlisted for the Booker. This is her sixteenth novel, and I for one will be seeking out her earlier work.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Brooklyn by Colm Toibin or Love and Summer by William Trevor. We've also enjoyed A Sixpenny Song by Jennifer Johnston.

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