I mentioned last week how sometimes I will persevere with a debut novel because I feel debut novelists should be given a few more pages to get you – it’s their first novel after all. This could of course simply mean I am a soft touch; it can also backfire as it did with L R Frederick’s ‘Farundell’ which popped through my letterbox unsolicited a few weeks ago. From the cover and the blurb I thought ‘ooh John Murray have done well with matching this from what I like’ but as we all know you shouldn’t judge a book by a marvellous cover.
First up I just want to discuss the blurb actually or a bit of it, I know it should be about what is inside but I have to show you why I thought I would love it when it I got it. “Farundell is a story of magical awakening as a young man searches for meaning in the aftermath of the First World War, a young girl comes of age and an old man journeys through memory to death. There’s an enigmatic book, an erotic obsession, magic both black and white, a ghost who’s not a ghost, a murder that’s not a murder, a treasure that’s not a treasure. It’s about love, loss and longing; language, imagination and the nature of reality.” I thought this sounded really interesting and imaginative and something quite different. Well I was spot on with the latter.
Paul Asher has been fighting in World War One and been somewhat traumatised, though initially we aren’t quite sure why though we do get a small taster in the prologue. Not wanting to go back to his father in America he accepts a job writing down the memoirs of the elderly Amazon explorer Lord Perceval Damory and moving into the grand house of ‘Farundell’ and its surrounding lands and rather bizarre inhabitants. This was where I started to get a little lost, L R Fredericks really introduces too many within the first 40 pages as you have Paul’s back story, his London friends and then this host of characters living in Farundell. I had my notebook out and even then I was never sure who was related to who or how. Paul’s sudden desire to leave London and work in Farundell also really mystified me, I wasn’t convinced and even with the unbelievable (this was merely more slightly unlikely) an author should have you convinced.
Once in Farundell we start to meet this family who awake in the night outside their bodies (their ‘moon bodies’) and float around following foxes and watching sleeping guests. Again that’s fine. Yet they would then sit and talk about the whole thing for a few pages with lines like “I am not purposefully trying to confuse you” and “sometimes there is no answer” leaving the reader feeling very confused and actually wanting a lot of answers.
So why did I persevere? Well I kept hoping it would turn into something like ‘Atonement’ or ‘Brideshead Revisited’ which the publishers compare it to and are two of my favourite books – it didn’t end up like either. I also liked the magical surrealism yet it never led anywhere. To me this is a book that needed someone to reign the author in a little as rather than being a great post-WWI grand house drama or a surreal fantasy novel it seemed to end up not being either, not being satisfactory and going nowhere (even the love story didn’t interest me). I feel mean writing that about a debut novel but it’s the truth, someone should have edited it down, it feels a good 150 pages plus too long, and helped the author decide what they wanted it to be. A shame as it’s beautifully written it just doesn’t do anything or seem to have any purpose behind it or driving it. It does have a lovely cover though.
A book that will: either win you over and have you thinking it’s the most beautiful, enigmatic and imaginative novel or have you thinking its twee nonsense that promises a lot and goes nowhere. Sadly, and I genuinely mean that, I fell into the latter category. 4/10
L R Fredericks no doubt has great signs of promise but I won’t be reading this, or its follow ups (yes there is a series), and am not sure would give any future books not related to this a whirl. Should I write off an author after only one book? I actually think I should have stopped reading half way (as I have another debut since) as then I could have told people that it had promise but just wasn’t for me, now if I told people it had promise having seen the end result I would feel I was lying. Have you ever had any books like that, the ones where if you had left them unfinished you might have liked them more?
*Oops I originally called the protagonist Paul Auster – only becase I wrote the blog whilst mulling over if I wanted to read that author, my brain is truly overtaken with all things bookish it seems.