Aftershocks by A N Wilson

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Aftershocks by A N Wilson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that has some strong merits, but gives them up most cussedly.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2018
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 9781786496034

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In a country very much like New Zealand, but at the same time most avowedly not, two women will find love. Strong love too, for our narrator will say that her first attraction for her partner was the only thing to make sense of all those exaggerated songs she'd heard, and books and poems she'd read, and plays she'd acted in – works of art that had until then seemed sheer hyperbole. It was entirely unrequited love for quite some time, but it does burgeon, or so we're promised from the off, because of something quite drastic – a major earthquake very much like the one that hit Christchurch, but at the same time most avowedly not. This book then is the combined exploration of the lovers and the story of the quake.

But don't come to these pages expecting a straight lesbian love story (no pun intended). It seems a little off to put this clear writing into the literary fiction category, but I feel I have to, partly from the approach, style and taste of the author, but also due to the approach, style and taste of the characters. Our narrator is hardly into full flow in her opening chapter when she is declaiming about Victorian art; we learn what the academic members of the cast are working on as regards Biblical subtext and Greek classics. With both legal and political characters we see a little more than we'd expect of city planning problems. There are great discourses on the décor in the Cathedral – but at least these are heralded as possible foreshadowings of what the thrust of the story is going to eventually take us to.

But finally, I was able to appreciate that literary bent, for it certainly shone a new light on things many other authors must have tried to convey – in adventure and disaster books at least. Here you can see this is certainly not the typical airport or beach read approach, even if Wilson shows he is more than capable of putting his characters in places that one imagines are the worst to be in during such an event, and he does – through tossing and turning between many cast members – convey the deadly tremors.

He also does something else, which I can't begin to discuss beyond mentioning it. That, almost as much as what surrounds it, seems to be the core content of the book, which might disappoint people – to have a ten-hour audio-book (at a guess) turning on a trick. I don't think I objected too much, although I can see that as a valid response. I certainly did like the meat and muscle of the book, from the quake on, but to repeat I did feel there was a heck of a lot of gristle and fat to get through before the main meal. We do, of course, have a category here at The 'Bag for LGBT fiction, but while giving this a literary flag we can't do the same for that section, for the simple reason that barely more than an hour of that audio-book would actually feature the two women together.

So come here for a take on (non-NZ) lesbian love from an English scholar/novelist in his late 60s and you come in vain. Come instead for a quite distinctive take on a society fracturing and regrouping because of a natural disaster. But as for the erudition-for-erudition's-sake sections, the discursive fiction regarding so much that buries the emotional aspects of the strong love featured here, you too may well wish to take them with a pinch of salt.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

If you wanted more that we get here of how this story's fictional territory became a member of the Commonwealth, you would easily take to Resolution by A N Wilson. You might also enjoy When Rooks Speak of Love by Hilary Dixon.

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