Sunday 4 October 2009

Memoirs of a Master Forger, by William Heaney

The cover design of this book led me to expect a pseudo-Victorian adventure, but this is actually a modern, urban book set in a London of lobby groups and homeless shelters. William Heaney got involved in some supernatural shenanigans at university and now, middle-aged, is up to his ears in dodgy deals that are starting to fall apart – and he sees demons everywhere. In the middle of this he meets an fascinating and beautiful young woman who takes an unaccountable interest in him, but he still feels guilty about the way his previous relationships ended.

This was a good book, but the fantasy element seemed like a bit of icing to make a mainstream novel about a middle-aged guy falling for a younger woman more interesting. The demon stuff seems a bit intrusive even from the very early pages, like a bit of Piers Anthony being ladled into a Melvyn Bragg novel.

I’m happy for people to write relationship novels, but it’s just not what I really go for. Relationships, emotions, love – in the books I tend to like best that stuff's all there to add ballast to a book, to give the protagonists a reason to fight the monsters, or the aliens, or whatever… What disappointed me with this book was that as it went on it became clear that the relationships were the meat of it. The supernatural elements could have been almost completely removed without affecting the plot at all.

Of course, that doesn’t make it a bad book, just one that didn’t appeal to me. I realise that makes (or is one of the many things that make) me a buffoon!

There were a few mistakes in this edition, to the point where I started to wonder if it was some kind of metatextual element that would lead to a flourish at the end… Antonia magically knows Otto’s name (p. 81), a CID interview is referenced that doesn’t seem to come up anywhere else (p. 94), and then there’s “bare to repeat it” (p. 162), “want her to now it” (p. 143) and “my tongue froze to roof my mouth” (p. 162).

This novel did in fact win the British Fantasy Award, and though it didn’t get my vote, I can see why other people loved it.

Memoirs of a Master Forger, by William Heaney, Gollancz, pb, 320pp

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