Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Half Life ... A Whole Book ...

I have to admit I was nervous.
'What happens when an average nuclear family is hit by a one megaton bombshell?' it says on the cover.
'What happens when an average blogging author receives a book written by someone she cares about?' I wanted to reply.
'What do I do or say if I don't like it?'

Well thank goodness my fears proved unfounded.
A Half Life of One by Bill Liversidge is a taut and chilling story about a man caught in a deadly trap of his own making, set in a vividly-drawn frozen Scottish landscape.

Nick Dowty is depressed, self-pitying and lacking in any ability to empathise with others. His abrupt mood swings launch him from the depths of despair to euphoric heights - often with no justification outside his own twisted mindset.

He's a man who has completely lost touch with all that is truly important - the simple pleasures derived from companionship and shared lives. Instead he has been sucked into a homegrown version of the American dream, where he believes his worth can only be measured in terms of financial wealth, material possessions and the status accorded by running a successful business.

When the dream turns rancid, his world falls apart. He can no longer hear his long-suffering wife when she says they were happiest when they first met and had nothing, but instead is convinced that his ambitions are selfless and revolve around his desire to look after his family.

As he gradually unravels, his desperation leads to the utter disintegration of his moral framework, with appalling results.

I wondered what had happened in Nick's past to lead him to such extremes and was concerned Bill might not give his readers this information, resulting in us having difficulty believing in - or caring about - his main character. I needn't have worried. Bill finally tells us what we need to know in the closing pages of the book - a clever device.

Bill has self-published A Half Life of One - a decision I know he didn't take lightly and which I wholeheartedly support. Therein lies my only real criticism. For a self-published book to be given the serious attention it deserves, the quality has to be on a par with any book published by traditional means.

In other words, there has to be an editing process. Simple errors that would have been picked up by a copy editor or proof reader prevent the book from being the best it could possibly be.

More seriously than the typos and repetitions, there are a few continuity errors (the kidnap victim blowing her nose when her hands are tied behind her back; Nick saying he heard her voice for the first time when she had already spoken several times on the previous page ...) that any decent editor would have picked up on.

This may seem churlish and petty. After all, the major concerns of an editor - plot, characterisation, structure, style - raise no fundamental problems. Maybe that's why I was even more aware of some of these smaller details.

That reservation aside I'm delighted (and relieved!) to say I heartily recommend this book. It is indeed an 'easy but dangerous read' as the cover warns us.

I'd add that Nick Dowty is such a well-written and credible character, and so convincing, that I worry the police may come knocking on Bill's door some day soon!


Unknown said...

This book sounds good. Maybe Pundy should do a book tour.

Anonymous said...

hello lovely. sounds a great read - what a shame he had to self publish. hope someone will spot it and snap him up.

S. Kearney said...

Nice review Debbie. I'm looking forward to my copy arriving. I like the subject of this story a lot.

Debi said...

V - it is. He should.

Rivergirlie - if there's any justice in the world ... And you're pretty lovely yourself.

Shaymluss - you spelled my name wrong!

Anonymous said...

The last book I read was a new book produced by a major US publisher (Simon&Schuster I think), a NYT bestseller level book. In one chapter, the main character returns home at 11 pm. Two or three paragraphs later, he receives a visitor just before 10. This isn't a typo, but a continuity error.
Unfortunately, many publishers are omitting the editor or outsourcing this function as cost-saving exercises.
So your point is by no means limited to self-published books.
Books need editors! (and proof readers)

Debi said...

Good point, Maxine. It's amazing how many errors creep through even when the editing process is supposedly in place.