The Blue Book by A L Kennedy

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The Blue Book by A L Kennedy

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Madeline Wheatley
Reviewed by Madeline Wheatley
Summary: Set within the closeted world of a cruise liner, The Blue Book is an intense analysis of a relationship picked down to its bones
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0224091404

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Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

Despite not being quoits and gin slings and rubbers of bridge people Elizabeth and Derek have embarked on a cruise. Derek is probably hoping to propose, but things do not go as planned. From the moment they encounter a stranger as they board the ship, the cruise proves to be revelationary for all concerned.

Elizabeth reflects on her past, to the days when she worked in partnership with Arthur, a phoney psychic. Was what they did truly fake if it helped bereaved people to deal with their grief? Their trickery involved an elaborate system of codes, with numbers representing concepts such as loss and betrayal, or simple phrases like please listen. Their ability to mislead is central to the course of the book.

This being A.L. Kennedy, the tricks are not limited to twists in the plot, though there are plenty of those. Even the fabric of the book deceives. Is its cover blue or purple? What is happening to the page numbers? Is it significant that the pagination progresses from 1 to 373 with random (?) jumps to 919, 156, 666 and back to 0? And what about the direct address to the reader? The book's opening draws attention to the relationship between the reader and the book. In seductive tones, rather like a medium's, you are encouraged to think about the act of reading as an intimate encounter between two people.

Sadly, the relationship that I developed with this particular book had quite a few dramatic shifts. I was enthralled by the beginning and the end of the story, but the mid section, for me, wallowed as much as the ocean liner on which it is set. I could not quite believe in the emotional charge between the central characters, Elizabeth and Arthur. Their behaviour and thoughts made them seem more like love struck teenagers than a couple in their thirties.

But that element of disbelief was countered by enjoyment of the author's ingenious way with words. What kept me reading was the lyrical precision of phrases like orphaned newspapers (the litter of abandoned reading material in a public place), or the accuracy of describing people who can sit in a café without company as being able to be nakedly alone. That, combined with the need to unravel the puzzle and to follow the twists to the outcome, made The Blue Book irresistible.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Want to read more by A.L. Kennedy? Try Day or What Becomes. For another perspective on psychics, try Mixed Blessings: My Psychic Life by Diane Lazarus.

Buy The Blue Book by A L Kennedy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Blue Book by A L Kennedy at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Blue Book by A L Kennedy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Blue Book by A L Kennedy at Amazon.com.


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