In The Rooms by Tom Shone

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In The Rooms by Tom Shone

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This novel centres around a rather hapless Brit abroad, New York to be precise. He engineers situations to suit his particular desires as a literary agent and all sorts of unexpected consequences unfold in glorious comic detail.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Windmill Books
ISBN: 978-0099534068

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The book jacket for this novel is of New York by night, a cityscape par excellence. It also boasts Toby Young's comment as laugh-out-loud funny. I have a lot of time for Toby Young. I find him witty and entertaining. But I usually approach claims such as this with a healthy dose of 'we'll-wait-and-see' scepticism. However, he was right. And I am truly impressed with Shone's ability to make me laugh out loud and at the very beginning of the novel too. A very good sign of delights to come, I thought.

The reader is presented with an introduction into the psyche of New Yorkers. All that endless rushing around. Shone sums it up nicely by saying Nobody stopped in New York. The Brit abroad in question is English literary agent Patrick Miller. And straight away the reader is plunged into how Patrick sees the whole American work ethic. It's written with lots of humour. It's also a double whammy in a sense because, as you'd expect, he's surrounded 24/7 (very American, in keeping with the novel) by a whole bunch of Americans and the reader gets to see their angle on the Brits (or in this case, the single Brit). Perhaps not unsurprisingly, humour on both sides of the Atlantic often get misconstrued, with comic results. The whole lost in translation thing is played out in this novel, in varying degrees.

I could give many delicious examples of some fine comic writing but I'll reserve myself (reluctantly) to one or two, just to give a flavour. Patrick (the novel's written in the first person which works very well and gives it punch and immediacy) patiently explains yet another area of cultural confusion. You can almost feel his perplexed frustration when he says Even the car horns meant something different here ... The whole piece runs like a successful stand-up comic.

There's lots of dead-pan humour from blue-collared New Yorkers who seem to find Patrick's manners and style of speaking confusing and strange .. but cute. The plot centres around a reclusive writer who Patrick, by various cunning means, tends to get in touch with and perhaps become his new agent, making bucket-loads of dollars in the process. But things do not run smoothly ...

Shone gives the reader lots of descriptions of people and places in his own distinctive style. For example, some of the city's fine architecture is described by Patrick as I found one of those handsome rust-coloured places which a century ago would have housed a Henry James heroine trapped in a loveless marriage ... Time and time again Patrick compares notes about the two cities. His opinion is that London is rather tame, a bit dull, whereas New York is rock and roll. He's almost become a local resident in his own mind. To his circle of friends and colleagues he will, however, always be that funny British bloke. He thinks it will help his case if he becomes more like them. So he drinks more and tries some other bad habits. But does it work out?

In fact, Patrick has such a way with words I couldn't help wondering why he didn't write his own novel, his own best-seller. But perhaps that's me going off at a distracting tangent. I must say that I loved Patrick. He was very 3D on the printed page which is an endorsement of Shone's writing.

This novel is not all about laughs and comic situations though. There are some serious moments which pack a punch. Food for thought. There's a lovely piece involving Patrick and a well-attended AA meeting. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then w think that you'll love The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.

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