The last fortnight has been rather frantic. The Infant Trefusii and I have our birthdays in a mid-March Piscean cluster, which always creates its own kind of chaos, I hosted Andrew O'Hagan at The Books That Built Me, went to the Basel Watch Fair, collapsed in a heap, picked myself up, went to Paris to see more clients, and today I'm in Milan for a lunch at Villa Mozart, the beautiful home of jeweller Giampiero Bodino for a lunch with the super-yacht owning readers of Boat International.
Added to which, a number of work deadlines fell on top of me, like opening the door on an untidy cupboard, leaving me clutching my season ticket to The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. The best one can say is that all the travelling has given me an excuse to escape into novels, making a journey into someone else's imagination is the only holiday I can take at the moment.
The Dynamite Room is Jason Hewitt's first novel, the thoughtful, polished product of his Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa: a follow up is due in June. Set in a remote Suffolk village during the early part of the Second World War, it tells the story of Lydia, a resourceful eleven year old, who has made her way back to her family home after running away from Wales where she'd been sent as an evacuee. She reaches her house only to discover her family has disappeared and the surrounding countryside is deserted. Soon she's joined by a German soldier, who will kill her unless she does everything he says. Hewitt deftly conjures a convincing portrait of a serious, determined little girl, coping in her own way with being held hostage by the mysterious German, as we slowly uncover his past and his purpose as the novel builds to its tragic conclusion. You know it can't end well, but nor can you look away. I like it very much for the ambiguities it sets up - we're awfully sure the Germans are the baddies, but in any war, does belonging to the opposing side automatically make you the enemy?
I'd like to draw lots of interesting parallels between The Dynamite Room and Lissa Evan's Crooked Heart - both novels feature unlikely relationships between rather lonely, precocious children and grownup strangers, and are set against a backdrop of wartime Britain, but I might save this for when I write about the next Books That Built Me - Lissa Evan's is my guest at The Club at Cafe Royal on 28th April (click on the Books That Built Me logo top right for more details). In the meantime I'm very much looking forward to Hewitt's next novel, due in the Summer.
Fortunately, Paris Gare du Nord is the end of the Eurostar line, or I'd almost certainly have missed my stop, so engrossed was I in Eliza Kennedy's debut novel, 'I Take You'. Lily Wilder is getting married, but as her wedding day draws rapidly closer, her behaviour is much closer to a wild-eyed party child than a bride to be, drinking from dawn to dawn, and shagging just about anything that takes her fancy, including her brilliant archaeologist fiance. I've made it sound like chick lit, and it does have all the page-turning pleasures of an airport novel, but Eliza Kennedy is a much more accomplished writer than that, with a quick, dry wit and an ability to break all the novel-writing rules without breaking the novel. There are few novelists, let alone debut ones, who are able to create an appallingly badly behaved, utterly transgressive heroine and then allow the character to carry the story first person. What I loved is that really, one ought to find Lily Wilder beyond the pale, and yet one loves her despite her self-made car-crash of a life.
Anyway, if I don't post this, I'll end up on another plane and I can't write and fly at the same time - the seats in front are too close and I'm so long -sighted that I need the laptop at some considerable distance if I'm to be truly comfortable. I was looking at some bloke, hunched over a very high powered looking powerpoint, amending a sales pitch to a massive multi-national, and I saw he'd written 'The Basic Tenants of Our Proposal' which sent me apoplectic. For two pins I'd have corrected him, but imagine if he'd flipped out - aeroplanes are very confined spaces, and people don't always take kindly to Being Told.