Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The reader as co-conspirator

Independent novel review: Head of Words

Sometimes, you see where a novel is going and guess the surprise twist well before getting to it. Sometimes, if the writer is really good, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the novel.

In the case of Head of Words, I felt like a co-conspirator with author Chris Ward. I guessed what he was going to do with the story line, and I kept going for two reasons: first, because this new novel is such a good read; and only secondarily because I wanted to make sure that I was right.

I was, and I loved the novel.

The plot

Head of Words is narrated by Daniel Barker, a university drop-out who’s set up a “doss house” in a very small apartment in Bristol. For my readers on the western side of the Atlantic, that means he takes in as roommates just about everyone he meets. At the opening of the novel, there are thirteen people living in the one-bedroom flat, plus a small dog: Daniel himself; the angry and dangerous Shane; Stevie, who dreams of being a rock singer; Aunt Rita and Uncle Rick; the cynical Clive, Dan’s oldest friend who’s endlessly playing chess with Uncle Rick; the bickering, indecisive twins, Ernie and George; Polly, the exotic pole dancer; Angelo, the great seducer; Bernard from Jamaica, who has an inexhaustible supply of weed; the eccentric tinkerer Franz; and the latest addition, Lisa, the talented artist.

The book chronicles the adventures, stresses, arguments and compromises inevitable among such a large group in a small space. Aunt Rita establishes some kind of order, cooking meals that somehow stretch one income to feed thirteen people and a dog. Angelo alternately pursues Polly and Lisa, while dodging a former lover’s phone calls; Shane gets into fights, justifying his actions by claiming he’s defending the group; and Stevie exasperates everyone with futile striving for rock stardom.

The style

Ward writes a story or two for almost every character. He shows us how each one came into Dan’s life and, usually immediately, into his house, too. Every character is believable and developed, except maybe for Clive — as Dan’s oldest friend, he should have more ink in this book.

The writing is funny, touching, moving and absolutely compelling. Ward is obviously a professional writer, and although (I hate to admit it) I had never heard of him before he contacted me with an advance review copy, I find he’s already published several collections of short stories. From the style, any reader can see he knows the craft of writing. Another example of the kind of writing that the publishing companies and critics SAY they want to see, but don’t actually support.

Head of Words is one of those books you cannot put down. And if you, too, guess the twist, I don’t think you’ll be able to close it on that account.

Chris Ward knows how to keep readers on for the ride.

5 *

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CBDD73Q/
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CBDD73Q/

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