|419 by Will Ferguson|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Iain Wear|
|Summary: This novel won Canada's version of the Booker Prize. As far I can tell, it was a completely deserving winner. This is what happens when great writing and great story collide.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: August 2013|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
|External links: Author's website|
Will Ferguson seems to have a liking for con games. His 2007 novel, Hustle (published as Spanish Fly in Canada), followed a pair of 1930 short con grifters and their willing protege. However, in his Giller Prize (Canada's equivalent to the Booker Prize) winning novel 419, Ferguson comes right up to date and focuses on a longer con, one which many of us will be aware of.
Anyone who has ever opened an E-Mail which proves to be a plea for assistance in getting large amounts of money ahead of the authorities will recognise the theme. Laura Curtis' father had such an E-Mail and having tried to help and spent all his money, he has driven his car off a bridge. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, a pregnant young woman walks through the dust, trying to escape her family and find something that ever she doesn't know what she is looking for. In the Niger Delta, meanwhile, the oil companies are moving in and a whole way of life is changing in the fishing villages there.
It's easy to see why this is a prize winning novel from quite early on. Ferguson mixes up his stories brilliantly, flitting from the snowy accident scene of Canada to the dusty landscape of Northern Nigeria and the crowded city life in Lagos without pause. Somehow, even with such differing locations, Ferguson provides a decent picture of each one without there ever being a feeling that there is a preference. No matter which location the characters are living in, they will face a struggle of some kind.
Perhaps the real surprise was how I ended up feeling about many of the characters in the novel. No matter whether they are conman or conned, almost everyone here feels as if they are a victim in their own way. I found myself feeling sympathy even for the people who are scraping a living by trying to ruin the lives of others. Even the kingpin, Ironsi-Egobia elicits sympathy, as Ferguson paints him as someone nearing death. In 419, as in life, there are no good and bad people, just some people having to do bad things to try and survive.
Of course, great writing can be nothing without a decent story to hang it from and 419 has that as well. The pace of the novel is kept quite high and this is the kind of book that, when my eyelids were too heavy to read any further, I found myself turning the page regardless. Ferguson keeps you guessing, as a nearly forgotten character suddenly becomes important and everything becomes entwined. Ferguson is skilled enough and confident enough that he can leave certain plot strands hanging, leaving the reader wondering how they could and should have ended, but not needing to do anything to take that wonder away just for the sake of an ending.
Scam E-Mails are not a topic you may think would make for a decent novel. But, like the offer contained in the E-Mails themselves, 419 hooks you in and promises just a little bit more. Unlike the scams, however, the novel delivers on its promise and makes you glad you opened it right up until the end. Will Ferguson writes the cons so convincingly that no reader will feel they were conned out of the money they've paid for any of his works.
You can read more book reviews or buy 419 by Will Ferguson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy 419 by Will Ferguson at Amazon.com.
419 by Will Ferguson is in the Top Ten General Fiction Books of 2013.
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