On the Holloway Road: Andrew Blackman

Youth is the time when it is very easy to find dreams and passions, friends and loves. The eager energy of youth pushes you to explore yourself and the world around, and be fascinated with what you find. But just as easy it is to find dreams and fulfillments; it is also very easy to find disappointments. Andrew Blackman’s atmospheric novel ‘On the Holloway Road’ speaks of the anguish of being young, of finding friends and of losing them.

Jack Maertens, a writer in his twenties, is wading through the difficult times of creating his first literary novel. His days are monotonous and his writing seems to be going along the same lines. Then one day he meets Neil Blake a fitful young man, an antithesis of Jack. Neil is everything that Jack is not. He has had one too many brushes with crime, while Jack has always stuck to the right side of law. Neil is uncontrollable where Jack is restrained. Jack who had been living a sheltered life on the Holloway road is caught in the whirlwind of Neil’s personality. He does not understand Neil well but a deep curiosity pushes him into a fateful friendship with Neil. Jack and Neil embark on a road trip across Britain and on the way they find some truths about life, some of which are sweet and yet others which are fatal.

Andrew Blackman has a very fluid style of writing. The roads of Britain and Scotland come to life under his pen. The despondency of winter, the drudgery of old forgotten towns, the monotony of life comes across powerfully in his prose. The naïve outlook of the young writer Jack is expressed very well. The simultaneous simplification and complication that Jack engages in, while analyzing the world around him, is very interesting. Another fascinating aspect is the development of both the characters in the novel. Neil is idolized by Jack and everyone around him, while Jack speaks of himself in a less flattering manner. But as a reader we do not see Neil in the same shining light; we can see his weaknesses, and it is Jack who we really root for. This is a very finely developed aspect of the novel.

On the Holloway road is an atmospheric tale of the journeys undertaken by two young men in search of their dreams and of themselves. Blackman’s prose is very engaging and makes for an intriguing read. I recommend the novel for the vivid moods that Blackman creates in his novel. 

'On the Holloway Road' can be bought from Flipkart in India.

Book Source: Self

His Illegal Self: Peter Carey

I had read Peter Carey’s ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ last year, which was released in 2009 and had really enjoyed the dry wit and unusual humor in it. So it was with some excitement and expectation that I picked up ‘His Illegal Self’, a book released in 2008. This novel however did not live up to my expectations and I felt quite unsatisfied with it in the end.

This protagonist of the novel is Che Selkirk, an eight year old boy, the son of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) activist parents. Che lives with his grandmother, an upper class American woman. His activist parents are absent, being on the run from the FBI having been involved in violent activities. Che’s life is comfortable and peaceful; decidedly maintained that way by his grandmother who has kept him away from the television, shielding him from all the disturbing news of his famous parents. But there is one time when she lets her guard down and permits Che to meet his mother for an hour. Anna Xenos an ex-SDS activist and a present day professor of English, volunteers to take the boy to his mother. But what would have been a mildly illegal activity on Anna’s part quickly blows out of proportion and she finds herself on the run with the boy. Anna and Che head to Australia where they are promised support by a revolutionary faction there, but are ultimately left to fend for themselves. 

The narrative is tight and intriguing in these opening chapters. Carey tries to delve into the unstable and traumatic life of the child and succeeds in getting the reader involved in the boy’s emotional upheavels. With the background of the SDS, and the themes of class differences and wars hinted upon, the novel seems to promise a complex and layered storyline. But unfortunately the latter half of the novel flounders and none of the themes are really explored in depth.  We are just allowed a glimpse into these hefty topics but never get a full picture of the effects of these on the characters involved. Additionally the emotional bonding between Anna and Che is also not brought out well and falls flat. 

Though Peter Carey’s prose is crisp and sharp as usual, the novel itself ends up being ineffective due to the flaws in its plot. I would say this novel is not one of Carey’s best and I would rather recommend ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ if you are interested in reading Peter Carey’s work.

'His Illegal Self' can be downloaded for Kindle or can be bought at Flipkart.

Book Source: Self