Friday 8 February 2013

Entertaining Strangers by Jonathan Taylor

review by Maryom

 "Entertaining Strangers is a tragi-comedy about the eccentric Edwin Prince – a depressive intellectual obsessed with high culture and ants – and the mysterious, homeless narrator Jules, who gradually unravels Edwin’s impossible relationships with his landlady, neurotic mother, psychotic brother, domineering ex-wife, dead grandfather and, above all, his ant-farm. At the same time, Jules continually experiences traumatic memories full of fire and water, and gradually a terrible pre-history emerges from beneath all of the other stories, which seems somehow to shape both Jules’s fiery dreams and Edwin’s obsessions – a great fire, massacre and one girl's drowning in Smyrna, 75 years earlier."

Homeless Jules accidentally stumbles into the house and life of Edwin, an eccentric high-culture buff with a fascination for ants. Living in chaos, surrounded by broken relationships, Edwin tries to find order and a perfect world in his ant colony. His family is, at best, dysfunctional; all of them scarred by his grandfather's experiences in Smyrna, 75 years earlier. Is Jules destined to save them from themselves?

From its double-edged title to the equally ambiguous narrator, Jules, Entertaining Strangers is a difficult novel to pin down and describe. If you could imagine a mash-up of  It's A Wonderful Life and Withnail and I with copious amounts of vermouth you'd perhaps be coming close. I probably wasn't the best person to read this, having a 'deaf ear', therefore no understanding of music, and a deep seated repugnance for ants - so I'm sure many subtleties either drifted past me or I shied away from. At times I was pulled in and fascinated; others not so much; but it's definitely a book I would return to. 

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction

Buy Entertaining Strangers (Salt Modern Fiction) from Amazon

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