All is Song by Samantha Harvey

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All is Song by Samantha Harvey

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: A complex novel illustrating the relationship between two brothers with differing values and lifestyles, set against their relationships with and influence over others - which is more powerful than they might have imagined.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Vintage Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099566069

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Some books are hard work. I have no problem with that if I feel there’s a reason to persevere; if I can sense that the book is going to deliver a story and the hard work is necessary to enjoy it fully, then I will happily plod along, re-reading sections if necessary, to get the full benefit of the novel.

That’s how I felt at the start of this book. Harvey has a way with words, illuminating dull pedestrian matters and making them subjects worth lingering over – but only for a time. This can only work when the dull pedestrian matters are proportional and relevant in the context of the story. So much of the this novel centres on the analysis of matters that could be dealt with quickly, that it is difficult to keep going without wondering when something will happen. The point of the more everyday material is to show the context of the lives of the two main characters and while I can see why this is valuable, it isn't a style of fiction that suits me. Pages pass with no dialogue or events; the characters and their thoughts form the greater part of the novel.

The brothers and their lifestyles and beliefs make for an interesting philosophy lesson. There were moments when I thought the main characters were depressed but after a while I realised that I found them humourless and was labelling them wrongly as a result. It’s always difficult to read a book where you don’t warm to the characters. Although William could have been a Miss Brodie type figure – in fact, the back cover copy led me to hope that he would be – he is frustratingly inert in many ways. It may be that we are supposed to share Leonard’s moments of frustration with his brother for some of his unique logic but Leonard is not quite well drawn enough for this to happen.

For readers searching out a novel that is full of philosophy and debate, this may well be a good choice. Moral concepts are thoroughly explored, from the limits of responsibility to where theism and atheism become one and the same thing – whether or not you agree is another matter, but it’s an interesting conversation to have. Unfortunately, the pace of the novel always matches the pace of this sort of conversation and that pace is held throughout, which was also a problem for me. Episodes that would have been better depicted with a sharper focus were stretched out into a slower burn than suited them. There are also conversations that appear stilted and unnatural at first, though on finishing the novel I realised that in reality, there are people who can turn what you might expect to be a short conversation into something which is styled more like a philosophy lesson, and as these are the sorts of people we are reading about, their conversations will be like that.

However, I can see that Harvey has a skill for a particular type of writing and this will no doubt be enjoyable for those who appreciate that style.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Wilderness also by Samantha Harvey.

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Buy All is Song by Samantha Harvey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy All is Song by Samantha Harvey at


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