Wednesday, April 11, 2012


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The Singer's Gun, Emily St John Mandel, Unbridled Books, 2010, 287 pp

I just love this author! I wish she wrote more novels though of course I don't want to rush her. She is young and hopefully will get to keep publishing books for years to come. This is her second, after Last Night in Montreal. Her third, The Lola Quartet, will be released in May and I can hardly wait.

Both books so far have been essentially mysteries but Ms Mandel puts her own signature on the genre. In The Singer's Gun, a title which indeed does name the murder weapon, Anton is the son of criminals. He has gone straight but has the oddest relationship to his parents and a nefarious cousin. He is married to a deeply neurotic cellist and his criminal past will not let him go.

In less than 300 pages, the lives of these people are revealed in a manner as engrossing as any thriller. But what I love about Mandel's writing is her characters. They are the fractured, broken people so often found in contemporary literature yet by some authorly magic she makes me love them. I desperately want to know each one's story; what made them who they are. I know going in that none will have a truly happy ending but after two novels, I now know that she will allow an occasional character to escape his or her destiny, even if only marginally.

The Singer's Gun is awash in the various vicious crimes of today. By putting a face and a personality to the criminals, Mandel makes it almost possible to forgive them because of the forces that have driven them. The late John Gardner wrote pages about the role of morality in fiction, back in the 1970s when we thought morality had a chance and before he died while driving drunk on his motorcycle. Emily St John demonstrates that any chance of relying on a moral universe is long gone and that it is fairly random as to whether any sort of morality pays off.

Just before reading The Singer's Gun, I had been contemplating how identity, in my family, amongst my friends and associates, even in myself, is hardly ever what appears on the surface. I wondered how many people have anyone to whom they can reveal their true thoughts and emotions. Mandel's characters are examples of this disconnect, the vast gulf between the outward persona and the inward despair, sorrows, and depression of human beings. She is not Dostoesvsky (yet) but she comes as close as anyone I have been reading lately.

(The Singer's Gun is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it at your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)

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