I am no oneI’ve been absent for a while because, as many of you now know, I’ve been on the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize jury and reading A LOT OF BOOKS.
However, that’s mostly done now and I’ve been able to start reading other things. First one up is a book called I AM NOT ONE, by Patrick Flanery and it’s so good I just can’t help doing a little promotion for it here.
On the star rating, I give it 5. If I could give it more stars, I would. A marvel of a literary thriller about our modern surveillance era.

I do not use the word ‘literary’ lightly. If one is expecting car chases and rock-’em-sock’-’em action, one will be highly disappointed. No, this is a psychological book full of quiet terrors, surrounded by incidents so mundane that the average person can’t help but identify. This is of course the point. Your life? Mine? Opened up and spread across the cold metal dissection table? What would one find, if one looked closely enough? In this world of six-degrees-of-separation, who can say they have not met someone at a party, sat next to someone on a bus, bought cheese from someone, had their hair styled by someone, even perhaps been friendly to, even perhaps loved, a person with whom the shadowy offices of global surveillance would take exception. A file would be started. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s one on me.

Consider the irony if one had dedicated one’s life to the research of East Germany’s Stasi as has Jeremy, our narrator. It’s that sort of a puzzle-book.

The narrator’s first person voice is perfect (I’m quite baffled by reviews here that say otherwise) — in part because it has exactly the right tone for an academic who’s spent a long time in Britain, but also because Jeremy is someone a tad bland, and deeply flawed. He’s also prone to long moments of introspection, passages I adored for their thoughtfulness and Jamesian interiority. It’s a risky choice in a world where readers are accustomed to narrators more prone to action, and written with a high ‘likability factor’ in order to please their publishing house’s sales team. I applaud Flanery for making it.

There is a great review in the Guardian of this book, which in part reads: “One of the pleasures of reading Flanery is the tussle between ways of understanding the shapes of stories and language. He mixes, to quote an interview he gave, “expressionism, symbolism, surrealism” into what he calls “critical realism” – he writes realist novels which show their awareness that realism is a self-conscious form like others. Reviewers have described his novels as thrillers, which is never quite right – but there are parts of the story that stand out as thrilling, next to other parts that are meditative, and others that are psychologically baffling. Readers are constantly seeking to work out what sort of writing they are reading. For instance, many of the chapters end with the kind of statement – ‘As you will see, I had things to find out … ‘ – that suggests the construction of a thriller and doesn’t quite fit with what has gone on before.”

Approach this book not as a thriller, although as the Guardian says, there are certainly thrilling moments, but as a compelling psychological exploration of privacy and the imposed lack of it, might mean to a life. Any life. Even yours.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.

10 Comments

  1. Bev Sandell Greenberg on September 10, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Thanks, Lauren. I read his first novel Absolution about South Africa and found it chilling.

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 11, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      I haven’t read that one, but I’ll look for it. Thanks for your comment Bev.

  2. Linda Wisniewski on September 12, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Thrilling, meditative, psychologically baffling – this ones going on my list! Thanks, Lauren.

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Let me know what you think of it, Linda!

  3. Barbara Small on September 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Sounds amazing! thanks lauren, and by the way, you write amazing book reviews. If I was an author, I’d be thrilled to have you review my book (even though I know you’d pull no punches). regards, Barbara

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 12, 2016 at 6:19 pm

      That’s so good to hear, Barbara. I’ve taken a vow only to review books I can say good things about. So little space for reviews these days, I want to offer it to books I love.

  4. Jane Goodman on September 12, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    What a great attitude you have! I sometimes read a book review which is so negative about the book and about the author’s writing that it makes me cringe. Why do that? As you say, with so little space in newspapers and magazines I’d much rather read about books that had something positive about them, and that readers are encouraged to go out and buy, or borrow from the library.

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 13, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Exactly, Jane. And then, if the reader does like it, I hope they’ll put up their own review on Amazon, Goodreads, their blog, the notice board in their local bookstore… such things are such an enormous help to writers! It means they just might get published again, so if you love a book, say so!

      • Jane Goodman on September 17, 2016 at 8:49 am

        Thanks for the excellent advice Lauren. I’ve not consistently gone onto Goodreads, Amazon or elsewhere to post reviews. There are many books I’ve loved (including all of yours, especially your new novel Against A Darkening Sky which blew me away!) which I can easily write a glowing review, and I’ll start doing so from now on.

        • Lauren B. Davis on September 17, 2016 at 10:02 am

          Thanks, Jane. Writers are so grateful for reader reviews.

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