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Monday, March 21, 2011

Author Rosanne Dingli Reviews Mainstream Fiction

Title: Days Without Number
Author: Robert Goddard
ASIN: B004071TB8
General Fiction

Originally reviewed for Amazon by Rosanne Dingli

Robert Goddard's latest thriller seems to be written within the mould this perspicacious author has set himself. Perspicacious? Yes, well - Goddard is the kind of author who does tend to use archaic words, sending one scrabbling for a dictionary older than your average Macquarie or Oxford. You won't find ‘phocine’ in any recent one, that's for sure.

Will the hooked reader waste time searching for rare words? Perhaps not: these thrillers of Goddard’s have the ability to keep one engaged, despite twists and turns that have the mind simultaneously wanting more and wondering how on earth it's all going to tie up in the end. The curlicues and hairpin bends in this particular novel are of fine calibre: history, accuracy in props and language, archaeological detail the like of which will set even the most demanding reader's hair on end.

Nick Paleologus (yes, even the names have that unlikely ring to them) is the son of a retired archaeologist, with a family of siblings whose closet of skeletons is not exactly run of the mill suburban fare. Is it important that his family name is linked to the Emperors of Byzantium? Suspension of disbelief is necessary in most novels; here one widens the eyes and pleads for more.

He has an irascible father, something many can relate to, seeing the comparatively recent time in which the novel is set. Irascible fathers were the order of the day then, and not only in England. The reader understands the cynical bent, the sardonic remarks, the pointed self-absorption that erases all else. The siblings too, are admirably drawn, especially the female ones and their sad choices in spouses, their mistakes with raising children, and bewilderment when faced with their own adolescent escapades coming home to roost.

What draws and amazes most in this book, however, is the history, and the weave of known events into a convoluted story that impresses not only with its ability to thrill and make one turn pages, but especially with its ability to make one conjure and devise possible explanations. What a writer it takes to manage to persuade a reader of a possible historic explanation that sits there, dangling its possibilities under one's nose, swinging and tempting with seduction. What a way to devise a red herring.

This method of charming an audience is perhaps foolproof, because it uses the reader's own bank of general knowledge. Who would not be persuaded to stay on to find out if their educated guess is right?

Educated: the operative word here, because these novels of Goddard's, and Days Without Number in particular, appeal to readers with a considerable bank of general knowledge, with a considerable love of those facts and figures, those nuggets of trivia, garnered over the years and necessary only - these days - when it comes to the vicarious pleasure of watching quiz shows. So one reads with pleasure, recalling stuff considered redundant, and taking pleasure in the fact someone has taken the time to write it all into a means of entertainment.
There is a persecutor here: a villain bent on torturing the protagonist and his family members. The identity of this vulture is withheld, until it is rendered quite skilfully and all too clearly plain. But that is not nearly enough: there is a larger all-encompassing and all meaningful mystery that hangs until the very last pages, and that is the big ‘what if’ question the author sets the reader. Exactly how skilfully this matter is tackled needs to be examined by the individual reader. Only those who enjoy intellectually driven novels will enjoy this kind of ploy. A philosophical question of judgement, of morality, of consequences and resolution is set to readers, who find out more about themselves than they think they would at the outset.
Relating to a protagonist - or two - as they set out towards the proverbial blue yonder at the end – can make or break a novel. Here, as usual, the reader must decide, teased towards the conclusion with even the titles of chapters!
In Days Without Number, we do not have the expected protagonist turned sleuth, an archetype expected in much modern fiction. Instead, we are given an entire family whose distance and cordiality developed over time is erased with a kind of sticky intimacy one associates with infancy. Once more, brothers and sisters are forced to ‘hold hands’. They rediscover personality traits in their siblings they thought they could hold at arm's length, disassociate from their own bank of quirks. Escapades and exploits of parents and avuncular relatives are once more brought to the surface and examined for kinks, with the result that modern motives become clearer and more rabid: more mercenary.

The pursuit of happiness becomes confused with the pursuit of comfort and financial ease. Who today would not relate to that? The solution of a historical mystery is bound up with personal dilemmas the like of which we all nurse. What if? The reader is set a perplexing puzzle ensconced within locations, historic settings and very plausible details, so that one asks oneself the very personal and pertinent question: what would I do in such a situation?
One also asks the question: would I be so gullible, given such a strange set of circumstances? The answer is not always clear, because fathers and siblings are not easy to deal with, even in the best of families. Emotional motives, sticks and carrots, abound. The bones of family skeletons are not hollow, nor are they light. Relating to the disclosure of a fictional history brings one close to considering one's own: what stories did our parents tell us? And with what motives?

~Reviewer Rosanne Dingli blogs at She is she is the author of According to Luke, Death in Malta,Vision or Delusion, A Great Intimacy, Counting Churches - The Malta Stories,The Astronomer's Pig, and All the Wrong Places. Learn more at .

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Rosanne Dingli said...

I am so thrilled to see my review here! This is a great review site I return to again and again.

TheGourmetCoffeeGuy said...

"Days Without Number" seems to be an extremely captivating and interesting book. The story line is very involved and it seems to be the type of book to hold your attention, create emotion and a desire to know what is next. Had enjoyed reading Goddard's " Hand In Glove" and "Never Go Back" previously. Liked your post, look forward to reading this book.