A single book review here today, because I’ve only got one finished and ready to review at the moment, and knowing the author (although having purchased the book at full price) and especially the fact that she’s an independent author, I wanted to get my review out on here and on Amazon as quickly as I could. It really matters, having reviews, when you’re going it alone without the full publicity machine of a large publisher behind you: people buy on recommendation, and I know from marketing my own books that sales pick up as soon as you have a few reviews – in fact, it’s not really worth officially launching a book until you have a few reviews stacked up for people to see. I also promoted this one up the book pile because I wanted to get it read and reviewed, and Ali was reading it at the same time.
Katharine D’Souza – “Deeds not Words”
(04 January 2014)
I knew what I was getting into with this book. I’d read the author’s “Park Life” back at the end of 2012 (was it really that long ago?) and was aware that, as with that novel, she had set this one in my home town of Birmingham. Now, I’m more likely to read a book that’s set here, I’d admit, but if they get it wrong, I’m much more likely to notice and throw the book across the room (I have done that before now). But I knew from “Park Life”, which was not only set in Birmingham but in the suburb where I live, that Katharine gets her city right, as she should do – both the places and the feel of the city.
This new novel is more city centre-focused, although also moving out into the suburbs and even as far as Stratford-upon-Avon. It centres around Caroline, working at the Museum and Art Gallery, having returned home from a marriage that’s gone wrong, always tending to run back to the familiar and safe rather than taking risks. She’s got her own flat near to work, but hasn’t really got round to decorating or personalising it, and the contrast is thrown into relief when she visits her beloved grandmother Beth’s much-loved and cluttered family home.
So, we have a returned child of the city, lots of excellent detail about the cut and thrust of working as a museum curator and trying to carve out a place in a setup that’s been there since the year dot, and then simultaneously an old flame reappears with something of a hidden agenda, and a family secret comes to light during a crisis. Mixed up in all of this is a collection of art that might not be what it seems, an unexpected family member who might not be all he seems, a dodgy geezer clutching a ‘find’ that might well be what it seems, and the usual tangled relationships and roles found in a modern family, with the whispers of inheritance and family feuds overshadowing the generations. The dual aspect of genetic and financial inheritance as well as the role of gender in history and family are all explored, too, without making the book dry or didactic.
I like the way in which the themes are more tightly twined together than in the previous book, with one very central character. Her family and work relationships are allowed space to breathe, and the importance of both – and of friends – is explored and given equal weight. It’s a modern book with a modern heroine but one that reaches back into a fascinating aspect of Birmingham’s past about which I knew very little. At the end of the book, I felt sad to be saying goodbye to the world that had been created, and I also longed to experience and visit a couple of the events and places that were created in the book, for the book, so, unlike the general setting and environment of the novel, don’t actually exist!
Yes, this is a great read if you happen to live or have lived in Birmingham. But it’s not just a local novel: strip out those details and you’re still left with a strong story and memorable characters of different ages and with different personalities, delineated beautifully and believable in their depictions: even Caroline’s slightly absent father springs into sharp focus at the appropriate points.
You can buy this book in print and ebook form at Amazon, and it should be orderable from Waterstones, too, soon. Katharine D’Souza has an interesting website where you can find out more about her and her books. Read Ali’s review here.
I’m currently reading George Gissing’s “The Odd Women”, which is oddly enthralling and more than a touch unputdownable, even though it has a slightly odd structure and somewhat unattractive central characters, and about to start a book about Jane Austen. Have you read any of Katharine D’Souza’s books? Do you read books JUST because they’re set in your home city or somewhere you know very well, and are you more critical, giving them more to live up to than books set somewhere you don’t know?