Back to the Future

The Christmas pile is diminishing steadily. Lion Heart by Justin Cartwright and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan are both now in the bookshelf pile. Both are misleading. Lion Heart is not significantly about Richard I, although the dust jacket certainly suggests that it will be. The Richard in the book, the narrator, was indeed named after the king, by his father who was obsessed by the notion that Richard I visited Robin Hood, that this was not a myth but a fact and that he would find papers to prove it. Sadly, he was a drug infused, deadbeat who had more going on in his head that going anywhere else. Though he had lots of friends, of whom, more later.

scan0003The book starts when (our) Richard and his girlfriend Emily, go as groundlings to see Mark Rylance as Richard III at the Globe Theatre, Richard is already getting rather tired of Emily, but nevertheless receives the news that she is ‘taking time out’ to find ‘personal space’ with something akin to shock.

However, he uses the time to do some of his own research into the papers his father accumulated on the subject of Richard with the help of a grant from his college, to look for Crusader Art. He contacts several of his father’s old friends and acquaintances and finds himself in The Holy Land, staying first in the American Colony Hotel, often with a new girlfriend, Noor and later when she goes off to Egypt, he stays with his father’s friend, Father Prosper at the Ecole Biblique. It is through Father Prosper that Richard meets Haneen Husayni.

As well as the shadowy research into Richard I and Crusader Art, (our) Richard is drawn into a complex shadowy world of intelligence, kidnapping, interrogation and general fear because all it not as it appears with either Noor or Haneen Husayni. Back in London, cut adrift from these friends, Richard is troubled and worried, longing for contact with Noor again and generally a bit of a mess…

Sweet Tooth on the other hand, though also about spying, is a book that is waiting for the future. That is to say, that although it is written in the present it is also not quite what it seems, the clue is in the very beginning. The spying is Cold War stuff at MI5 and MI6, lots of assignations, double dealing and secrecy. Sweet Tooth is the code name (naturally) of a government funded writers group, mostly non fiction but with one novelist thrown in for good measure, our spy Serena Frome, is tasked with finding and recruiting a novelist for the programme. She does, they fall in love, it gets complicated and all goes very pear-shaped when someone informs the press…scan0002

These were books I had not chosen for myself. Ian McEwan is a safe choice, his books are infinitely readable but to be quite honest, they are not getting better. Somewhere between Amsterdam and Saturday he stopped writing really, really un-put-down-able novels. Everything since Saturday has been perfectly pleasant to read but not very challenging, lacking either the bite of say Enduring Love or the ineffable sadness of A Child in Time. Pity, because the writing is still marvellous.

Justin Cartwright is another established writer, unlike I.M. I haven’t read all his books but what I have read I have enjoyed, he has often been compared with American writers like Philip Roth and Saul Bellow which I find slightly odd, but he does know how to keep his cards close to his chest and when to lay them down which is a characteristic that I both admire and enjoy, the twist in the tale…


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