Wednesday, 22 October 2014

London Literary Festival - first look at Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn


I love London. It's so full of life and there is always so much to do.

A couple of weeks ago (oops was it really a couple of weeks...so little time, so much blogging) this took me to the Southbank centre for the London Literature Festival. They put on a whole range of events from talks to debates, to readings but what I was heading into the capital for, was a First Look Book Club.

The idea of this is simple and quite ingenious: give a small group of the general public a brand new novel that isn't even published yet. Ask them to read it. Throw them together in a room and encourage them to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of it. Observe all of this. Improve book accordingly.

It does really make sense and I am surprised that they aren't a common practice. You receive the criticism for the book while there is still time to make alterations, ultimately enhancing your chance of selling the book. And for a literature nerd like myself who is absolutely desperate to be published (and therefore always fan-girling at any events that involve authors/publishers) the event excited me a huge amount.

There were about 12 of us altogether, including me and my friend, made up of all females - teachers, students, book enthusiasts...and then there was the event runner who chaired the discussion, the author, his wife and his publicist. It was a nice cosy set up, very informal  and everyone was so friendly. It definitely helped that we were all book nerds as well so had a lot in common with everyone but it was great to meet everyone. Especially the author, Anthony Quinn who is really lovely and really appreciated our thoughts on the book.

The book was pretty great as well. Curtain Call is set in the 1930s and one of the best things about it is that you can't quite work it out. At first it appears to be a murder mystery when early in the novel, one of the main characters interrupts a murder. However, this is definitely used more as a plot device than as the focus of the novel and it takes a backseat for the majority of the story. What is far more central is the romance between two of the characters. But again, you couldn't simply call it a love story either as on top of those two elements there are enough historical references, to allow it to fall into the historical fiction category. It would be wrong to say that Curtain Call is just one of these genres and Quinn intertwines them beautifully.

Quinn is clearly an ambitious writer. Not only does he flaunt any restriction to specific genres but he also writes confidently about a great many more 'main characters' than most authors would normally attempt. In fact, I couldn't say there were any sub characters at all. Every single one had a very important part to play, had their own plot and was filled out enough for the readers to care about them. Plus they were all interlinked which was faintly satisfying when these links came to light. Each character was humanly rounded with flaws as well as strengths in their personalities and what was perhaps most endearing, was that each one had a secret that they were trying to hide from the rest of the people in the novel. This elevated position of knowledge as the reader is, again, faintly satisfying and it is also very entertaining to watch as they develop. They often have to face up to this horrible secret they are hiding and once they have confronted it, (and allowed it to come out in the open) they are much stronger characters so the work of the author is done.

Curtain Call is simply a really enjoyable novel. It is surprising and gripping, emotional and absolutely hilarious at points. It contains something for everyone and I believe that anyone could enjoy it, male or female, young or old. So make sure you keep any eye out for it as it hits bookshops early next year.

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