“Featherbones” by Thomas Brown

Disclaimer: I wrote this review at the beginning of September, when I read the book after receiving it from NetGalley. But, since the book doesn’t come out until 01.02.16, I’m scheduling this wayyyyyy in advance. Yay. I guess I’m totally ahead of the trend in this instance.

featherbonesThis was an unusual read for me. I requested it from NetGalley for no particular reason, although New Adult / Adult literature/fiction isn’t my usual genre – I tend to read ‘genre’ fiction like SF/F. This will probably make itself clear in my response to the book, which is primarily to feel uncertain about the emphasis on character and emotion rather than plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I love complex characters who develop over the course of a book, but I usually prefer this to happen within the framework of a plot.

Featherbones is therefore far more ‘literary’ than most of my reading material: it revolves around a character called Felix who is dealing with grief from a few years ago as well as a breakdown between reality and dreams. The narrative’s pretty trippy: Felix is never entirely sure if he’s dreaming or awake, and being awake doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not dreaming. He sees birds and angels everywhere, in the people he’s with and in the architecture of the city around him.

As the novel goes on we learn more about where this grief and confusion came from, and how he lost his friend Harriet when he was younger. We also see him seeking help from his friend Michael, and gradually coming to realise that repressing his dreams and pretending they’re not happening won’t make them go away.

But in terms of plot, that’s about all there is. The rest is a character study: days at the office, dreaming about angels, losing grip on the real world. The writing is at times gorgeous and poetic, but I have to admit I almost feel it would have been better as a narrative poem or poetry collection, because that would draw on the writer’s strength while providing an explanation for the kind of descriptions that in less skilful hands would definitely come across as pretentious.

And really, it is gorgeous. It’s just that the lack of conjunctions and the frequent poetic phrases, long words and abstract associations, mean that it does stray away from prose.

Some of my favourite books do this. Some of them also feature the breakdown of dreams and reality, so in that way, I enjoyed it. It reminded me a little of The Dream Life Of Sukhanov, but it just … wasn’t as good. Because that featured the trippy narrative and the increasing psychosis (if that’s the right word) within a plot, not as the story in its own right.

Although I enjoyed the book, it didn’t quite hit the spots for me, probably because of my personal reading tastes. It was skilful and emotional and beautiful, but it wasn’t exciting or enthralling in the way that I like. So I’m giving it three stars.

I’ll finish the review with a few of my favourite quotes:

In that moment they could all be Sirens; every man and woman with blood in their veins and a hunger for singing, for screaming, for dancing through the iridescent night, and the grey days that follow.

Depictions of Sin dance in the windows, monstrous stained-glass images, bright and bloody with colour. They seem to snarl with incandescence as he enters.

Nobody knows the knock of shoes, the gasps of breath, the beating of the human heart like cities, which are made up of these things as much as they are collections of buildings linked by street names and labyrinthine roads.

Rating: ***

Find ‘Featherbones’ on Amazon (UK)

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