Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Light Reading

I had not come across the name of Aliya Whiteley until I received a review copy of her second novel, Light Reading. It is her second book, and has been published as part of the Macmillan New Writing series. There is a lot in it to enjoy. More than that, it is among the most original novels I’ve read in a long time. Because it’s both ambitious and quirky, it almost inevitably has one or two flaws, but overall I’d count it as a real success.

The story begins with a memorable depiction of the unsatisfying lives of a group of RAF wives, as seen from the point of view of Prudence Green, who opens the story with ‘the usual thoughts of how children gathered around a television screen resemble aliens waiting to receive instructions from the mother ship and whether it was too early to have a third gin and tonic.’. Pru is overweight, collects suicide notes which she buys on the internet, and is haunted by a mysterious event which occurred when she was seventeen. Her best friend Lena is attractive, but with troubles of her own - her husband is involved in a gay affair. When his lover’s wife, Yvonne commits suicide, Pru finds the body – and another suicide note to add to her collection.

Soon Pru and Lena flee from the RAF base and pursue the rather barmy idea of investigating the apparent suicide of a former TV star called Crystal Tynee. They finish up in Allcombe, a rather weird seaside town where they encounter a variety of odd characters in their search for the truth about what really happened to Crystal. The sequence of events that have taken place in Allcombe is unlikely to say the least, but this is a funny and sometimes moving book. The wacky plot isn’t the main attraction here. Light Reading should not be considered first and foremost as a detective story, but rather as a study in character.

Pru is a marvellous creation and Aliya Whiteley is a novelist with genuine flair. I shall certainly watch out for whatever she writes next.


Alis said...

Pru IS a wonderful character, I totally agree and it's her refusal to lie down and be nice at virtually any point in the book which keeps you turning the pages as much as the mystery element. What amounts to an anti-friendship with Lena is beautifully held in just enough balance to keep it on the right side of believably awful. Such a cool book!

Juliet said...

Sounds fascinating. Just been looking round her website. Another definite for the TBR mountain, methinks.

Anonymous said...

There are some good reviews of this book at Euro Crime and It's a Crime. I think I must read this one, also.