Wednesday 26 November 2014

The Paris Architect - Charles Belfoure (2013)

I wonder if Charles Belfoure is the only architect to have ever written a novel in which the main protagonist is an architect? It sounds like a recipe for literary disaster, but to give Belfoure credit the outcome does have its merits. In Nazi occupied Paris architect Lucien Bernard is offered much needed money to design hiding places for Jews by a rich Jewish industrialist. Lucien is a reasonably well drawn character who initially has little sympathy for the Jews, but then undergoes a moral transformation.  Although it is no great literary triumph The Paris Architect is an old fashioned pot-boiler that does produce some genuine narrative tension. However many of the German characters are one dimensional evil Nazis and there is an improbable feel good ending that you can’t help liking despite its cheesiness. Against the odds the novel draws you in and although Sacred Hearts (2009) was a much better written novel I enjoyed The Paris Architect much more, although some of my book club members would disagree. Read this one on the train, or propped up on your sick-bed when you can’t bear too much intellectual strain!

Monday 10 November 2014

The Ark - Annabel Smith (2014)

Annabel Smith is a Perth based author who has followed her two previous books, A New Map of the Universe (2005) and Whisky Charlie Foxtrot (2012) with The Ark, an edgy post apocalyptic novel set in the near future. The Ark is a radical departure for Smith; it is both available as a traditional print book and digitally as an ebook with the option to use an APP that allows the reader to interact and contribute to the world depicted in the book. In addition the novel experiments boldly with form and style. Clearly this is a novel with one eye set on the future.

Sometimes experiments with narrative form can detract from the story, but fortunately with The Ark Smith has blended form and plot seamlessly. The novel is set in two parts, the first set in 2041 and the second in 2043. The ark itself is a state of the art seed bank in which a small group of biologists and their families have taken shelter from a world in the throws of a post peak oil chaos, leaving the natural environment ruined. The Ark could be a typical post-apocalyptic novel, but the fact that the narrative form predominantly consists of electronic media of the near future provides a new and engaging angle. The characters communicate with both the outside world and each other using various future mediums such as Gopher, Dailemail, parlez-vite vitality (like a chat room), and Articulate, which is a voice recognition technology.

The real strength of The Ark is the fact that Smith has created compelling characters whom are both complex and sympathetic, despite using few of the usual narrative techniques to build character. The dialogue is entirely electronic, complete with fonts and software frameworks used by the various mediums. There is no authorial voice and none of the traditional methods are used to give the reader an idea of the settings, with the only descriptions coming from what the characters are saying to each other. The narrative is completely carried by character perspective, with some sections dedicated to specific characters.

Smith has taken some great risks with The Ark, but thanks to quality writing and a strong plot she has succeeded admirably. Also intentionally or not The Ark says something deeply profound about humanity and the ending can be interpreted in a number of different ways. The Ark is an intriguing novel that offers something new in a market crowded with future dystopias and hopefully it will find the audience it deserves.

Annabel Smith’s website can be accessed here for more information about the novel, the APP and the world of The Ark.