Tuesday, September 06, 2011

introducing the band

Like the Edwards novel Half Blood Blues is a story built upon seemingly minor actions and their eventual undesirable consequences.  We see seeds of trouble sown early – jealousy over a woman, shame in front of one’s peers, rivalry both personal and professional. 

Through Sid Edugyan quickly fills us in on how things were in both Paris and Berlin during the Second World War, particularly if you were black or part black.  This was one of those novels where you are presented a scene you think you are familiar with, then told to look more closely, at a detail you’d previously overlooked – and there the story lies.  Perhaps a lazy comparison, but Levy’s Small Island came to mind – although that achieved it’s aim better for me.

Initially I was impressed – I felt like I was getting a decent dose of story-telling.  Sid swiftly sketching an outline of what happened and then we would wait for the details to be filled in, the characters to be fleshed out.  But sadly this never quite happened - few of the cast were as strongly defined as Sid.  A group of characters was clearly needed to support the storyline, but I was surprised that the star they all revolved around, Heiro, stayed largely superficial to the reader.

In addition and perhaps inevitably the novel relied quite heavily on the appeal of the jazz scene, which whilst atmospherically rendered (‘We sat at the knifed-up chairs, while he snapped a tan handkerchief out of his front pocket and whisked the nutshells and cigarette butts to the floor.  His eyes glistened like beetles.’) never has quite the same appeal that audible music holds, especially not for a reader who doesn’t happen to be a jazz fan.  

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