Anatomy of a Book: Blast From the Past, by Ben Elton

Only someone bad would ring at such an hour. (p.7)

The phone in Polly’s flat is calling.

The caller did know where Polly lived. (p.9)

Polly has a stalker, named Peter.

I shouldn’t be hugging you, Jack.’ (p.88)

And to complicate things Polly’s former lover, Jack, has arrived at her door. There is more than one reason why Jake has visited Polly, and the exposing is done with classic story elements.

Changing Status:

The status most prevalent is the difference between Jack, an American four-star general, and Polly, a lonely anti-war activist. Jack wears his full-dress military uniform in Polly’s messy apartment, and is hesitant to reveal why he is there.

High Stakes:

Life and reputation, however for the lives and reputations to matter one must care about the characters.

Page Turner:

Why is Jack in the room? He is reluctant to explain his motives for visiting Polly after many years of separation. This ploy is sued by Elton to keep the reader curious.

As the book is set mostly in Polly’s room, it could be better suited as a stage play. This is because what holds the book back are tales of the couple’s history, wedged between sections in the first part of the book. Without them a stage play would have a better pace.

Believable Characters:

There is a lot of background information, however the character of Jack does not hold particularly well. His long speeches as he and Polly argue over the role of the army don’t fit with someone in his status position and with his intention in the room.

Educate:

Elton is using status imbalance, single room scene, a character’s secret, and a stalker’s pressure as hooks to make the story engrossing. What he actually wants to do is outline the role of the armed forces, keenly the type of people they need to be compared with the behaviour expected of them (which is to do murderous things and be pious). That is an interesting discussion that is shoehorned into a story, and might have been better set in a more believable premise.

Anatomy of a Book: The Bible, by Various Contributors

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (p.1)

I haven’t read the whole book.

Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, and Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David. (p. 619)

I have read passages, seen the movies and listened to speeches on the topic.

When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. (p. 2012)

I can still safely identify the narrative components that help explain this literally success.

Changing Status:

Slaves are freed, the sick are healed, water becomes wine, and when the character of Jesus appears in the second half of the book, he is immaculately conceived and born as the son of God, yet lives as a poor carpenter who is persecuted for his good deeds.

High Stakes:

The souls of all humanity are at risk.

Page Turner:

Some excellent prose and miraculous short stories gave enjoyment above some repetitive sections.

Interestingly the word Bible comes from Byblos, the town in Lebanon where the first library was formed, and derived from the word papyrus, for paper. The Bible was a collection of papers in Byblos – also where the word Bibliography is from.

Believable Characters:

The world is created, quite literally, in the first part of the book. In some quarters this could be seen as an information dump, though it does set up the influence God and other characters have over everything in the second half.

Educate:

There is a useful list of commandments, a few sermons, and many parables that preach on best how to morally live life.

Anatomy of a Book: Leave it to Psmith, by PG Wodehouse

Fifty-odd years of serene and unruffled placidity had given Lord Emsworth a curiously moss-covered look. (p.9)

We are introduced to Lord Emsworth.

‘Hear you’ve lost your glasses, guv’nor.’ (p.11)

We are introduced to Freddie Threepwood, and his language.

Her eyes were large and grey, and gentle – and incidentally misleading, for gentle was hardly the adjective which anybody who knew her would have applied to Lady Constance. (p.14)

And we are introduced to Lady Constance. It is not until much later that we are introduced to the book’s lead character, Psmith.

‘The p, I should add for your guidance, is silent, as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan. You follow me?’ (p.35)

It is unusual to have the lead introduced late, however this blip on the routine story sequence would be allowed by the reader for the following reasons.

Changing Status:

There are imposters at Blandings Castle, acting as more important people than they claim as robbery is a motive for some. Will they be found out?

High Stakes:

There are consequences to being uncovered as frauds, plus the romances and relationships of almost everyone are intertwined, whether they know this or not, and, in what will become a continual theme of Wodehouse novels, the challenge of ‘..love would come after marriage.’ (p.184) is posed at a point of antiquated English values.

Page Turner:

Events do unfold rapidly, and while the traditional story structure is loose, the joy of the writing allows for the reader to wish to continue reading.

Believable Characters:

This is Blandings Castle, all the characters have flaws which other people either admire or fear, yet each is not convinced of their own flaws, thus they are true to themselves and are also endearing. Being human is to have flaws, and so the reader can relate to the flawed, and enjoy the results of the character’s interactions within the society they exist.

Educate:

It must be highlighted that this is the first novel by Wodehouse. There is much he shows over the course of his books, including when and how to use terms such as: gosh, old thing, I say, rummy, a bit off, golly! and (from p.184) pip-pip, toodle-oo, what!, and right-ho!

All the Wodehouse books are ‘Splendid!’ said the young man, flicking a speck of dust from his coat-sleeve. ‘Splendid! Splendid!’ (p.35)

Anatomy of a Book: Shada, by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts

At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways – with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, Wait a second. That means there’s a situation vacant. (p.13)

We are introduced to the villain Skagra and the beginning of his plan.

Whenever they met, and much more of late, Chris felt that Clare had the air of waiting for him to say something obvious and important, but for the life of him he couldn’t work out what it was. (p.19)

We are introduced to Chris and Clare, and their unresolved sexual tension (aka URST).

The Professor emerged from the kitchen, carrying two cups of tea. ‘Here you are.’ (p.25)

We are introduced to Professor Chronotis, his enthusiasm for tea, his book fill room, and his scattered memory.

It may – though it almost certainly will not – come as a surprise to discover that the police box that Chris Parsons saw in Professor Chronotis’s rooms was not a police box at all. (p.27)

We are introduced to a police box found in the Professor’s rooms.

Chris pondered a second. ‘You mean it’s a dead end?’ / ‘Well, I was trying not to put it in such a final-sounding way. Why don’t we agree to say cul-de-sac?’ (p.298)

Eventually these characters face troubles, struggles, death and travel, mostly with Romana and the Doctor. It is a Doctor Who story after all.

Changing Status:

The bumbling Professor, with students Chris and Clare, have to face a mastermind villain and assist travelers of time and space.

High Stakes:

The minds and lives of these people are at risk, and things only get worse from there.

Page Turner:

Frequent drama. Each chapter ending during a chase or a challenge. the dialogue is snappy, and backstory limited as it is revealed though the book only at times when needed.

Believable Characters:

Each character has minor annoying quirks, such as the relentless up-beat nature of the Doctor, or the Professor’s focus on tea. Endearing quirks that make them relatable.

Educate:

What do you do if a mind sucking orb floats at your head?

Anatomy of a Book: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe

I suppose they thought I was just the build for it because I was long and skinny for my age (and still am) and in any case I didn’t mind it much, to tell you the trust, because running had always been made much of in our family, especially running away from the police. (p.7)

When the faculty teaches writing, they say to keep sentences short, to describe and not tell, and to limit the use of “I” in any piece.

If only ‘them’ and ‘us’ had the same ideas we’d get on like a house on fire… (p.7)

This award winning short-story breaks many of those writing rules, as it is a piece with a specific intention.

I laughed so much one morning I went down ten minutes in my timing… (p.13)

It shows the mindset of a life-time criminal, yet does so with classic story elements.

Changing Status:

The criminal is a long-distance runner. He excels at the task, and wagers will be made by the governor of his detention facility on the runner’s success. The power therefore is with the runner and his ability to control the race, and the runner know this.

High Stakes:

The governor could limit the life of the runner. The runner knows the risks and is honest in his responses to his situation. This question of honesty is interesting, as it asks what the meaning of the word “honesty” is to the law makers and law breakers.

Page Turner:

For a short story the pressure is not continuous. This is an exercise looking at the mindset of a life-time criminal. The story is hooked on analysing a character, rather than exploring events or situation. The book is in part, while it has risks, about why the character will not change despite the belief of the government.

Believable Characters:

There is much detail in the thought and actions of the lead character so the reader feels they can see their mindset.

Educate:

What is the world like for a criminal from the slums of Nottingham? What do they feel about their actions? Would they even consider themselves to be breaking any law, to be a criminal, to even live in a slum?

Anatomy of a Book: Sunset at Blandings, by P.G. Wodehouse

indexand not for the first time he found himself wishing that he had a stronger will, or, alternatively, that Brenda had a weaker one. (p.11)

This is almost the last book P.G. Wodehouse wrote.

(Deirdre.) ‘I’ve often wondered how that name was spelled,’ said Vicky meditatively. ‘I suppose you start off with a capital D and then just try your luck.’ (p.76)

He was 93 and in hospital and still firing on mental all cylinders.

sixteen skeleton chapters of a Wodehouse novel that was to have gone to twenty-two. (p.104)

Unfortunately it is incomplete.

No scholar, as far as I know, had collected all the railway references and laid them out for inspection. …I have brought them all together. It was not difficult, only laborious. (p.187)

And following the last edited and typed chapter he wrote, this book dissects the world Wodehouse created and this too is unfortunate.

But once a scenario was leak-proof, with couples coupled and loners left happily alone, Wodehouse put together his first rough typescript and reckoned his main labour and slog-work was over. There remained the part he really enjoyed: revising, cutting, adding, adding, adding, shaping, smoothing to a high polish. (p.112)

In places though it does analyse and offer what it takes to write a good novel.

Changing Status:

Wodehouse’s narratives at Blandings often involved women who have been whisked away to the castle to prevent them seeing and marrying a penniless curate or artist, regardless of any wealth by the woman. These couples must get together at book’s end despite ruses of identity or thievery. The male must obtain some status in fact or reputation to be deemed worthy of his beloved by the overbearing Florence, Connie or other matriarch. It would be Lord Emsworth or his brother Galahad that would provide the good conscience.

High Stakes:

The two parties in love must be besotted with each other.

he was under no illusion that his pilgrimage was to terminate in lovers’ meeting. (p.62)

Page Turner:

Endeavours are thwarted at every turn. This might be by happenstance or coincidence or intervention by any number of characters/ The perils that couples face at Blandings come and go as much as the appetite of a pig might be studied – that is frequently.

Believable Characters:

The world Wodehouse created has a strict code of morals (p.109) so that good is always found in the end. Every character also had an outline of name, status, relations, intentions and description: Much too tall for his width (p.109). Wodehouse had a design for the world, even if he described it as making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether (preface).

Educate:

One can read to find how the world of Wodehouse worked. To see the stereotype upper-crust of English characters and their interactions with the managing servants and each other. Their personal codes of behaviour being mocked by a code of joy and much equality, as long as each is satisfied with their life. Other than this, the Wodehouse books give a good laugh. The latter is a more enjoyable purpose to the reading.

Anatomy of a Book: The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. (p.1)

This pleasant self-description by Philip Marlowe, the narrator, is evidence of him taking on a different role.

I was calling on four million dollars. (p.1)

One that is of high value.

(Describing a painting) I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. (p.1)

We can tell Marlowe is a man of action, low in patience, practical, and has an enjoyable use of words.

‘As a matter of fact I’m not here. You’re just seeing things.’ (p.43)

It was a screen writer who said that if you can hook the audience into the characters and story early then the structure need not follow all the rules. This is true for The Big Sleep. It is a classic “book noir” (the novel precursor to film noir). It is famous for the characters and the language, and these are almost more important than any other element. The story is still important.

Changing Status:
Philip Marlowe is a low paid, semi-outcast, private detective who unravels the history and crimes of the higher paid and more influential. The Sternwood family who hire him are rich, but are involved in sordid affairs.

High Stakes:
For most of the book this issue seems low. Marlowe’s life is not directly threatened and the Sternwood’s seem capable of withstanding any attack despite the money being discussed.

Page Turner:
Interest in the character’s secrets and the beat of the language is a bigger pull than any other stake. Still, there is jeopardy as people die and time moves quickly as events directly come to ahead.

Believable Characters:
The world is created with brevity in description. Marlowe narrates and the reader has confidence in him. He is direct, and the characters hold their own status. None have a clear weakness. This helps the world play its role in the story.

Educate:
The life of a private detective is somewhat exposed. The secret life of people the reader gets to know is also exposed.

Anatomy of a Book: Jinx, by Hugh McGinlay

Judging by the amount of blood that stained the cobblestones, where her singular finger now pointed, she’d lost blood from the wound in her throat before her fingers had been severed. (p.4)

There’s been a murder.

Catherine’s look hardened, her forehead creasing, though she reached across the table and took Melissa’s forearm. (p.12)

And Catherine’s friend has been implicated.

Lunch hour was in full swing when they entered the crowded Lebanese bakery on Sydney Road. (p.9)

The setting of Melbourne suburbs is not the only hook for this murder investigation storyline.

Changing Status:

Catherine Kint used to work with the police, is now a milliner, and is investigating a murder once again. Can a functioning alcoholic solve a crime that others cannot?

High Stakes:

People are getting killed, and Melissa is set for the blame. Could Catherine or her friend Boris be next on the murder list?

Page Turner:

Events unfurl quickly, and so there is a constant drum of danger.

Believable Characters:

There is not enough mystery to all characters for them to escape stereotypes. There is some great subtly to Boris, in particular, which allows him to rise above a slender personality line.

Educate:

Some view into the operations of the police and new age spiritual healing centres, and on how to make a hat – though more detail on the hat production (and others) would have added a level to the story to increase believability and intrigue.

Anatomy of a Book: Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett

The wizards chatted with the forced jolliness of people who see one another all day and are now seeing one another all evening. (p.15)

The Discworld is remarkably similar to our own world.

‘Celery,’ said the Archchancellor, his self-control rigid enough to bend horseshoes around. (p.56)

The descriptions are spot-on to our own emotions.

‘Can you use a scythe?’ (asked Miss Flitworth.) (p.63)

Except one thing is wrong with the Discworld.

I THINK THE ANSWER TO THAT IS A DEFINITE ‘YES’, MISS FLITWORTH. (p.63)

Death has been retired, and is now living as almost a human. The tale of this event is very enjoyable to read for excellent reasons.

Changing Status:

Death is no longer immortal, and the dead can no longer simply die.

High Stakes:

Without Death something must take its place, and in the between time something else can grow to threaten everyone.

Page Turner:

Pleasant prose with good humour make for an enjoyable read, but it is also the fate of the characters that is important to the reader.

Believable Characters:

The characters have flaws and are still endearing to each other in the world. It is purely fantasy but believable in the reality of character actions, their short comings, and their interactions. These are the kinds of things people relate with.

Educate:

Imagine a world without Death. What would happen, and what would we learn about the importance of life?

Anatomy of a Book: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams

dirk-gently-bookThis time there would be no witnesses. (p.1)

There is one problem with this book.

“Ah, the real culprit,” he said, holding up the swan. (p.15)

Perhaps there are two problems, but neither is the swan.

This seemed to relieve the old man. (p.58)

Yes, the swan is fine, and by the end the problems are gone. This is a relief as it is a thoroughly enjoyable read for very good reasons.

Changing Status:

The problem is that Dirk Gently introduces himself on page 90. That feels awfully late for a title character to make an impact, and another important character comes into the story after this. Both are alluded to earlier, but it is only on re-reading the first 90 pages that the influences of their roles can be seen. Until then the main status changes affect Richard McDuff and Gordon Way, so at least there is something happening.

High Stakes:

Lives and relationships can be lost. Both can be seen as important and both have drastic actions attached.

Page Turner:

Events unfold over just a few days, with sometimes rash decision making impacting events. The story as a whole is complicated, and therefore the first 90 pages take on more relevance with a second reading, but considering the complexity untaken the language and style is very easy reading, and often humorous.

Believable Characters:

There’s an endearing way most characters are treated, and a sparseness of detail gives reality to descriptions as the reader fills in any gaps.

Educate:

Have you ever wanted to know more about time travel, musical time signatures, inventing the catflap and burglary? Read this book to find out.