Waxwings by Johnathan Raban
rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was the first time I’ve read anything by Raban and on the basis of this book I will be going back for more – and better prepared this time!
There are no spoilers here, don’t worry, but the book – especially its blurb – wrongfooted me. By a third of the way through I was sure I was heading for the dark heart of Seattle so when it ends on a relatively upbeat note (all the major characters get something of what they want, if not all of it) I was really rather surprised.
Raban writes with verve and a love of words that gives a lot of his work a manic energy reminiscent of Michael Moorcock’s Mother London, he likes to play with words and that is sometimes a little intrusive, but his love for his characters and his ability to fillet a city in the boom years and lay out the hidden mechanisms stops it being a pain.
His Chinese character resonated with entrepreneurs I met in Beijing a few years ago and the dissolution of the marriage between his protagonist Tom and wife Beth is neatly delineated. Their son, Finn, is an interesting character who seems to be heading for darkness too but is redeemed by that most venerable of discoveries, the love of a good (or at least sometimes good) puppy!
I did enjoy this novel, would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been misled by the jacket notes, and I really liked the energy and enthusiasm of the material which is a fantastic contrast to the morose cynicism of many contemporary writers. I think it’s given me a yen to visit Seattle, so definitely Raban has worked some magic on me.
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P.S. - I lied on my end of year statistics. Carmel has just had an acceptance for an erotic short story reprint, so Ren didn’t get the last acceptance of the year from Polluto after all! And I had 34 acceptances in 2008, not 33.