Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Books – Six Lies, by Ben Adams

(Note: I was sent a free ebook by the author in exchange for an honest review).

After the death of his mother, Dave Fazackerley receives a letter from her. In this letter, after describing her pride and love for her son, she unlocks an old secret. From her death bed, she reveals that she is not Dave’s biological mother, something her and his father have failed to mention for the last forty something years. Distressed by his mum’s death and confused by his father’s past, Dave sets out in search of his biological mother. Meanwhile, he’s making a muddle of his personal life in his attempts to win over his ex-wife Louise, and discovering that his parents may not be the only people in his life who have lied to him.

Six Lies is Ben Adams’s second novel. It is, I suppose a rom com, with a side order of mystery. I kept on thinking of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy (although to my shame I haven’t read that, only seen the film), or perhaps the film Run Fatboy Run. I’ve certainly seen more films like Six Lies than I have read books like it. It felt like a gentle, funny, romantic comedy. Certain scenes – especially the end – are very cinematic. It is dramatic, engaging, and funny – both through Adams’s comedic narrator and, every now and then, at his expense. The book certainly has its cheesy moments, but they are all knowingly and lovingly written. The cliché is so completely embraced at points that you simply go with it, and just when Adams has fooled you into thinking you know what’s coming, a new development takes place. You can really tell that Adams is getting beautifully immersed in his chosen genre, and thoroughly loving every word he writes.

I’ll be honest: I did have a moment or two of panic when I began reading this book. There is a certain trope in literature that I have come to hate, and it is this: a central male protagonist who is self-involved, self-obsessed, horrible to everybody, casually misogynistic and has a very high opinion of themselves – or at least, what I dislike in books is not so much this character type as when the book supports them, when it seems to come round to their way of thinking, when the author seems to think as highly of the character as they think of themselves. I can name countless books where I read on desperately hoping I was supposed to hate this detestable man I was reading about, only to discover I was apparently supposed to like them. Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, James Salter’s All That Is, Claire Kilroy’s All Names Have Been Changed are a few examples

So I was very pleased to find that, if Dave Fazackerley starts off looking like one of these characters, he gradually becomes something different. He begins as a man with quite a high opinion of himself, his looks, his humour and his general wonderfulness, but as his life begins to crumble around him, so does his opinion of himself. I enjoyed Dave’s character development over the novel. I love how the more he discovers about his father and his father’s life, the more he aims to define himself against his father, and the more he begins to look into himself. Dave is not exactly the deeper of thinkers, and openly admits to avoiding dwelling on anything that will cause him stress, but we do get a sense of how the novel’s events affect him as a person. His attitude towards life, and towards himself, changes, and I like that. I started off the novel constantly frustrated by Dave, and ended up kind of routing for him.

Indeed, no one in this book is a saint. No one is completely likeable. Everyone has their flaws, their inconsistencies, their follies – except perhaps Dave’s (adopted) mum, who seems lovely. But this is also part of the fun. And as with so many good books, I found myself enjoying reading about these people, even when I wanted to shout at them to pull up their socks and fix the messes they were making all around them.

All in all, I very much enjoyed Six Lies. Yes, it is silly, it is cheesy – but that is part of the fun, and amongst the humour and hilarity, we do find moments of rare and sweet poignancy. It is an engaging and lovingly written book. It is simply great fun.

Greatest strength: The fun and engaging plot, and Dave’s character development across the book.

Greatest weakness: Twice in the book, Adams slips into multiple narration, and allows another character to narrate something Dave could not. I felt like these sections were sort of unnecessary, or were only really there for the sake of advancing the plot. I think I would have liked a more complicated look at the inner worlds of our two other narrators, or for them not to narrate at all. But this is a minor point.

Let’s finish on a quote: ‘Those words must be truly shocking to you. I can imagine your sharp intake of breath. You’re probably swearing.’

Next week: will be another throwback books review, of George Meredith’s The Egoist.

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