I wrote, a few weeks ago, that I was not reading books at the moment. Since then, I’ve read a few, but I’ve not been engrossed in reading several each week as usual. At the time, I couldn’t work out why but now, maybe, I have.
Four months ago, I read ‘Human Traces’ by Sebastian Faulks. He’s a good writer and it was not a bad book, but it left me oddly unsatisfied – it just seemed a bit too contrived.
For example, one character went on an expedition to Africa and found prehistoric footprints, of a family of a man, woman and child, fossilised in volcanic ash. He cut one out to bring back to Europe but, surprise, surprise, it was lost forever when a mule fell to its death in a gorge. It had to be lost, because if he’d brought it back then it would have had to have happened then. These footprints exist, but that character didn’t bring them back.
A baby boy was born, after years of his mother’s barrenness. I counted up the years – yep, I bet that infant is due to die in the prime of early manhood in the First World War. And so he did. Dying didn’t add anything to the story, it was just done because that happened a lot in the 1914-18 war and he was far too much beloved to be allowed to live. The requisite poignant twist – oh puh-leeze Mr Faulks.
It was not a bad book by any means – too long, Mr Faulks became too engrossed in his characters and turned it into a life-long biographical tome, when shorter and to the point would have been better. But – and this would have been so much more forgivable in a lesser writer – he made me aware of the plot devices. And I’ve lost my suspension of disbelief and I look for the contrived episodes in every book and can’t be bothered to read them.
Maybe I should reread ‘Birdsong’ and then I will forgive him.