Murmuration by Robert Lock

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Murmuration by Robert Lock

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: An exploration of the intertwining lives of Blackpool inhabitants, all touched by the mysterious dance of the starlings who inhabit the pier. Unlikely to be a summer read unless you are particularly keen on the endless suffering of characters, and so, unfortunately, I found this a difficult book to get through.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 368 Date: July 2018
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1787198241

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Murmuration follows the lives of a host of characters from 1863 to the present day. From a risqué comic to a fortune teller, we see the birth of Blackpool and its steadily fading glamour. There is a hint of mysticism to the tale, with the mesmerising dance of starlings over the pier acting as an anchor throughout the distinct narratives here, drawing together disparate stories of lives captivated by the sea.

Lock has clearly put a great deal of effort into his historical research and the result is a vivid evocation of the much-loved seaside resort from its heady days of development and wonderment to the more recent incarnation as a hotbed of excess and easy pleasures. In terms of criticism, Lock's writing style grated on me. There appears to be a desire to force a lyrical, poetic style through the use of overtly descriptive passages and a reliance on unnecessarily complex terminology when a simpler style would have made the story flow with greater ease.

A more serious problem for me is Lock's reliance on the distressingly tedious 'suffering as character development' narrative style, especially for female characters. The violence metered out against the women in this story could be forgiven, if there didn't seem to be such relish in it. I'm not suggesting sexual and physical abuse of women isn't commonplace, rather that it is becoming depressingly obvious that, for some writers, female characters must experience some form of sexual or domestic abuse to give them any depth. So many of the men in the stories here are odious, misogynistic, unpleasant creatures which makes it hard to care about what happens to them. An example of this is George Parr who builds a career from the ghastly humiliation of a fellow female performer with whom he becomes sexually obsessed. All the women in his life, from his long-suffering wife and daughter to the woman he humiliates and the child he sexually abuses in her place exist as nothing more than objects to be used and discarded. By the end of this chapter, the reader is left hoping for a grisly end to such a disgusting human being. However, it reads as though Parr should be seen as deserving as some sort of sympathy, as though all the stars have aligned against him and his tragedy is not, in the majority, of his own making.

The apparently mystical, omnipotent nature of the starlings throughout each character's journey is an interesting touch and it's a shame that this wasn't emphasised more as this would have made for a more compelling and innovative tale. I don't want to spend too long criticising something which someone clearly worked hard on, so I will leave it at this; I am disappointed that I can't provide more positive feedback about Lock's work, but overall, I can't say that I enjoyed this book and it was a slog to get through some chapters. I gave Murmuration three stars because I can appreciate the work it takes to construct multiple narratives and to adapt one's style to reflect the change in context across different time lines. My issue here is that Lock's general writing style feels forced and lacks the lyricism he appears to be striving for and there is too heavy a focus on grubby, violent encounters which leave an unnecessarily unpleasant taste.

According to other reviews, if you enjoy Murmuration you may also enjoy Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

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