Now this is going to be an interesting post for me to write as I am still not quite sure how I feel about this Man Booker Long List novel, and when I haven’t quite decided how I am feeling about a book I don’t like to put down my thoughts ‘out there’. However I am reading the Man Booker Long List and also I think that this book is one of those books I am not sure I will ever be quite sure how I feel about, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
‘Not Untrue and Not Unkind’ is Ed O’Loughlin’s debut novel and to be long listed is a huge feat and I think from some of the writing and the subject matter of the book that Ed O’Loughlin is definitely a talent to watch out for. The story is based around a group of journalists and photographers who are covering the wars in Africa. The thing is again this is one of those books that suffer slightly from the start because of the blurb.
We as the readers are told “In Dublin, a newspaper editor called Cartwright is found dead. One of his colleagues, Owen Simmons, discovers a dossier on Cartwright’s desk. And in the dossier Owen finds a photograph, which brings him back to a dusty road in Africa and to the woman he once loved! “Not Untrue and Not Unkind” is Owen’s story – a gripping story of friendship, rivalry and betrayal amongst a group of journalists and photographers covering Africa’s wars.” Yes, this is undoubtedly Owen’s story and more of him later but the whole ‘Cartwright is found dead’ I was expecting a much more suspenseful tale and you have to get well past page 80 for any of that to kick off. This is a small thing though; it is just something that really bugs me with blurbs. I know a book needs to be sold, but don’t miss-sell it.
So Owen is our narrator and he is a very interesting one. War has made him immune to the death toll as it rises in more shocking and horrific ways. He in some ways sees his time in Africa both as furthering his career and some sort of extension of his student days, the drink and the girls though he does fall in love. However I did find that his disillusion with people and those who came into his life meant that I never connected with characters and in fact so many were introduced in the style of “and that was how Polly ended up on the scene” so quickly I was quite confused and had too many people to remember in too little time. Not quite the best start but I persevered.
Owen’s disillusionment sadly for me continues with all of the war scenes he goes to. I say war scenes because you never really get the background on what the war. You end up going to a looted palace or going to a site of dismembered bodies without actually ever knowing why this has all happened, it’s sort of assumed that you would know and I didn’t. Maybe that’s my fault though maybe I should have put the effort into researching the background more? Anyway it also ran into the shocking scenes you are shown for example when one of Owen’s colleague says the shocking line “has anyone seen the other half of this baby, I don’t want to count its body twice” because of the fact your narrator has seen it all before it passes onto you as the reader and so you aren’t as shocked as frankly you should be.
I loved the premise of the book and its settings. I thought some of the writing was great. I was intrigued by the characters as far as I could be, though I think the cast is way too many for a book of less than 300 pages. I also liked the idea of seeing these times through the eyes of a journalist and seeing the world they get to see, sadly because my main narrator was immune to it all, I in some way became immune to all of it too and the book didn’t have the effect that I think it could have. Mind you having said all that it is an accomplished debut maybe it’s just not quite for me.
I told you I hadn’t made my mind up yet. I also think it seemed too stereotyped and dark a view of Africa which is a theme that Dovegreyreader commented on when she reviewed the book. Yes it has a dark past but there are books that somehow look at these times, and worse yet they see hope in those times. I think that one of the best books set in Africa is ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and definitely want to read her other works. What other fantastic books set in Africa are out there that you have encountered? Have you read this one and what did you think?