Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney

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Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney

Buy Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An unhappy physics teacher ambles through life, seemingly forgetting the story of his mother's life, told in alternating chapters, showed much more of a struggle for peace and pleasure. The narrative style might be divisive, but I enjoyed the clarity and mature, blunt focus of the fiction.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 350 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Bluechrome Publishing
ISBN: 978-1906061401

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John, early 40s, is stricken by an unfortunate malaise. It might be put down to a mid-life crisis, were there a crisis to be had. He's happily seen his niece married off – the nearest thing he had to offspring or friends to be paternal towards. He has no partner, having sort of failed in the long-term relationship business. A colleague in the world of obscure astrophysics in Russia is panicked over their thinking being gazumped by rivals, but even this energy only feels alien to John. A brief fling with a lovely young student fails to pep him up.

It's not his mother Grace that is behind this doldrum – she has been dead a couple of years. As is the nature of things, the family was spread around somewhat, and she drifted off to pass away without him, but with a whole new family of people eager to listen to her regular personal story-telling sessions, and it seems to be the results of these that alternate with John's first person narrative.

Grace's, and the family's history, is an interesting one – and quite recognisable. It's a chequered one to say the least, with cause to flee the North American home for London, and further splintering. An actual, physical splinter nearly leads to tragedy for John's sister, Lizzy.

It's the way these stories are told that will decide your opinion on this book, more so than their contents. Both characters are well-defined by their narrative and their narration, but both share a reportage style that you might think is a little dry at times. It's the nature of the telling, with such a small proportion of dialogue involved that might alienate a few readers. The past tense is almost exclusively used, and we need to work out how great that past is – John seems to be talking of recent events as ancient history at times – I wasn't unhappy, I don't think he once vaguely declares about what seems a fresh and major life change.

(You also have to struggle to work out why this is set several years into our future. For twenty five years ago, someone was word-perfect on the script of the Godfather trilogy, which was finished in 1990. Either a blunder, or a hidden, mystical factor to the story – you decide.)

The very slight blurb from the publishers, borrowed by Amazon and other sources, mentions a couple of elements of the story. Baseball is one, but I can report there is nothing alienating about this, and the sport here is less than in the average Lionel Shriver book, which this at times resembles. Physics is another element, and it seems to be adding something to the mature style of the book, but I can't state precisely what. (Certainly, on page 124, where we witness a physics lesson, only unfortunately clunky symbolism.) This is one of those rare general fiction books with a glossary, but I felt safe to not use it beyond the first page.

As for the other strand to the story, Russia, that is a long time coming, and you really are left wondering why Grace hasn't factored it into her reminiscences. But the slow, mature heft to the family and the telling is actually more than engaging. The book is a firm mix of the everyday (sports day, more or less, as a child's ballgame success keeps parents happy and together) and the more unusual (find out for yourself) written in a way that successfully avoids the banal.

It would certainly be easy to make the book more depressing – John finds fault with a lot in his life, from his wanting said affair before it even seems possible, to his new students being too dry for his lecture style, and it's obvious that really Grace and Lizzy have more to complain about. Again the book does not state this in an obvious way, but makes everything to my mind, while not the freshest of reads, a very clear, lucid and intelligent one.

It's not a book that will set the world on fire, and I'm not sure the physics background added enough to the text – surely it did to the research our author needed. The cover, which shows how fluffy the results of astrophysics research can be, is at times the most feminine thing about the story. John is very well portrayed, and entering his mind is the biggest success of this debutante writer. Tangled Roots offers a fiction that could be brighter, happier, and clearer, but is certainly not a challenge to enjoy, and consider worthy of a Bookbag recommendation.

We would like to thank the publisher for sending us a review copy.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver.

Buy Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney at Amazon.com.


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