I really enjoyed this book and found the writing generally unsensational but vivid and gripping from the beginning. Mike Robbins has the skill of expressing a thought-provoking tale, with shocking and sensitive events, in a way that does not require miens of shock and horror. He does not shy away from describing graphic and unpleasant incidents, but does it in a fashion that slowly pulls in the reader until they find themselves suddenly hooked and wanting to know more.
This book provides a glimpse into the life of a middle-class, liberal-minded couple who take in Silvia Guzmán, a young woman who has fled from an anonymous South American country. She is a refugee, seeking to claim asylum in London, and the novel gives a good illustration of the thoughts and impressions that may be gained by unfortunate immigrants to a much richer country, like Britain. The couple have no awareness of who Silvia really is, and they are “too busy” or unwilling to discover more; instead they regard her as cheap labour. Tom is prolific and self-centred, while also being an author who writes about the exploitation of those less fortunate than himself, but at heart is consumed with his own pursuits and exploits the media and those close to him without a second thought.
For several chapters I found the story confusing as the reader is constantly pushed back and forth through time, with the thoughts of Silvia and the narrative. However, as expected, you gradually begin to link the various stories and are forced to think about one’s own ideas, impressions and, inevitably, possible prejudices. Silvia meets many characters as she struggles, in what seems to be an understandable state of shock, to find a haven in London. There are times when your heart goes out to her in her confusion; when your anger is directed at those who are fellow citizens from your own country; when kindness and understanding seem to be traits only possessed by her fellow refugees: even the “well-meaning” see only a poor refugee in Silvia. Silvia often recalls her life in South America, where her father was a distinguished politician and she a talented and well-educated teenager. After many twists and turns you remain confused as to how things will turn out and the riddle in the title does not become clear until very near the end.
There were some minor editing issues and I found some of the extracts from Tom’s literary attempts too long and detracting from the main story. While I can accept that some of Silvia’s background has to be kept behind to heighten any suspense, I would have preferred more about her than the characters in Tom’s book. I found the several italicised sections confusing at times, not clear when they were meant to portray recall of events, or a section of a script or a book. Events in the novel are written around the 1980s and 90s and I found it refreshingly free of the persistent demands from the mobile phone, social media and internet. But exploitation and corruption still exists throughout the world and, while the shallow characters in Mike Robbins’ book are unable to look at themselves and associate these things together, the author is well able to. I am reminded of the writing of Graham Greene when I think of this narrative and I hope that Mr Robbins continues to put his undoubted past experiences to good effect in future similar works of fiction.
Rating: 4 stars (WoW Blog)
The books of G J Griffiths: click on the front covers below to find out more -