Tigerman by Nick Harkaway
|Tigerman by Nick Harkaway|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A 40 year old retired soldier posted as consul on a small island seeks to impress a young boy he wants to father. Deeper, more considered and different from anything Mr H has published before, this is A Pattern of Islands crossed with Graham Greene crossed with a superhero wannabe - and it works.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: January 2015|
|Publisher: Windmill Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Battle-weary and suffering from PTSD, 40-year-old Sergeant Lester Ferris is posted to the island of Mancreu to mark time till his retirement. With no family of his own, Lester takes a local lad under his wing; an adolescent who lives his own life through comic books and superheroes in the hope that he can be adopted. Despite Mancreu beginning to churn with more than its customary black marketeering, Lester realises that he has a job on his hands, not only to take care of an island that sees him as a government puppet but also convince someone that he is the stuff of heroism and to convince himself while he's at it.
The last (and only) time I met British author Nick Harkaway was at the book launch of his superlative Angelmaker. That was a novel that should have filled him with pride, however as we chatted it became clear that his pride was reserved for another recent achievement. He and Mrs H had just become parents for the first time and his eyes shone (possibly through lack of sleep) as he spoke about his baby girl.
I don't mention this to be thought a name dropper and someone who doesn't get out much (ok, maybe the latter) but because it's very relevant to this, his third novel. A second young Harkaway is now in the world and Tigerman, although a fusion of many themes (including weighty stuff like geopolitics, imperialism, drugs and terrorism), the seam holding it all together explores what Lester Ferris is willing to do to become an adoptive father and the effect the effort to attain this dream has.
Indeed this is so very, very different from the steampunk/high adventure in the author's second novel or his off-the-wall debut Gone-Away World it divides the critics. Some who loved his earlier works didn't enjoy this and others who hated the former stuff love it.
Why is it so different? This is a story majoring on relationships rather than action as we witness Lester's past including his time on active duty and the pain and trauma that lurks in the memories. Back in the present, he's surrounded by characters abounding in quirk showing the new Nick can still play. As examples I offer you scrivener White Raoul who is not averse to a touch of magic and making fancy dress costumes and then there's Shola the barman who becomes the centre of a set-piece that colours the second half.
Some reviewers were expecting another fast-paced, fun-packed action fest and have criticised what they deem to be a slow build up. The secret is to come to this with a completely open mind, letting a picture of Lester develop in our imaginations before he's let loose, and eventually he is definitely let loose. I suppose technically Lester sets himself free; free of all the constraints that diplomacy has put upon him but this time he's not fighting for King and Country.
I must admit to tears at some stages of the story but I also whooped with laughter as Lester questions his own methods and sanity in the fight against evil, choosing a way that causes as many complications (and perils – those are real guns!) as it defeats.
My only minor whinge is that we're taken away from scenes before we're ready to leave. Sometimes this becomes a clever device, heightening the suspense. However there were one or two moments when I wanted to stay in certain scenes for a bit longer. Although, having said that, the benefits outnumber the moans - especially that ending!
In the end there's a twist that I couldn't see coming and there's also the moment when we look back and realise the journey we've taken since page 1.
This is heart-warming, nail-biting (the squeamish may want to look away for a moment at one point), and shocking with a finale of hope. Lester's definitely a good bloke to spend time with and Nick Harkaway? The façade of this novel may be Graham-Greenesque but every now and again, the façade is taken down and the author's inner child winks at us.
Mr H, although many (including me) may hope you have another Angelmaker or two to come, this new multi-faceted maturity definitely suits you.
(Thank you so much, Windmill Books, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: I know I sound like an obsessive but if you like good steampunk fantasy mixed with B movie action then do give Angelmaker a shot. If on the other hand you would prefer to follow the line of Graham-Greene-with-quirk, we recommend just as heartily Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe.
You can read more book reviews or buy Tigerman by Nick Harkaway at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Tigerman by Nick Harkaway at Amazon.com.
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