Well I’d like to claim that I read this book already because I knew it would be an award contender, but alas I cannot lie-I read it because I’m hosting an event with Michael Helm and his new book After James for Wordfest. As as event host I was given an advanced reading copy with the expectation that I would read it in preparation for my event with him, which of course I dutifully complied with. Now that he’s on the Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize list, it would be crazy of me to not post a review of it online.
I’ve stated before that I don’t read any book twice, but this is one story that I think deserves a second read. I have no idea when I’ll have the time to do it, but in a few years from now, I do hope I get the chance. After James is a really difficult book to describe and place within a genre. I would call it a literary novel of suspense, although there is definitely mystery, even a bit of horror mixed in. And some science fiction, there’s some of that too. It features three distinct sections which all end up relating back to each other somehow. The first and last section feature two women who share extremely similar features, and the middle section (which is also the longest) features a 30-ish man who finds joy and meaning in words, but discovers he is at the centre of what could be an international terrorist plot. So, lots to dive into here.
Although I enjoyed reading the book, I feel as though I’m the wrong reader for it. I don’t read closely enough to grasp every little detail, which is why this requires a second go. This book is for intelligent people wanting a brain twister, which apparently isn’t me. I frequently stopped reading, looked at a distant spot above the pages and desperately tried to figure out what I had just read. That’s not because the wording is confusing, it’s not really, but there are so many little surprises and tricks within each section that I was constantly trying to draw the connections that I knew were just out of my reach. Literally, I am stating that I was not smart enough for this book, although many people are, which is why it was nominated for a major Canadian writing prize.
As you can probably tell by comments above, I didn’t totally enjoy this book because I felt it was impenetrable. However, that’s not to say that others will struggle as I did, perhaps I am just trying a little too hard; maybe I’m over thinking things? Helm is good writer, he creates characters that are four dimensional they seem so real, but it wasn’t enough to keep me 100% engaged throughout-maybe I’ll have better luck in a few years when I’m older and have had more sleep.