Imagine this: I’m reading, la la la, and everything is going along swimmingly, when the thought pops up, ‘Is having the ability to write an integral part of being a good storyteller?’ No. Duh. ‘But what if the writing is bad enough to detract one’s attention away from the story?’ Stories don’t have to be written. ‘I know that, but what about…’ Shut up brain, I’m trying to read.
So there I was, sitting on the couch, wearing my pj’s despite the unapologetic late afternoon sun streaming into my eyes, with Dennis Sheehan’s first novel, Purchased Power, balanced precariously on my knees, and deep in a philosophical debate with myself. You may be wondering how I came to be in such a situation, and because I love you, I will provide you with some context – a week or so earlier, I had received Purchased Power from the author in exchange for a review.
Purchased Power was one of those an-unlikely-person-discovers-a-cover-up-followed-by-them-dodging-countless-attempts-on-their-life-to-break-the-news-to-the-public-who-will-be-outraged books. Phew.
What had set this book apart, for me, were the little cultural and geographical elements thrown in to the story. The author had lived in China and Hong Kong (where the majority of the book was set) for fifteen years, and his knowledge had come across to the novel beautifully. Whilst the heroes had traversed around the world to escape The Bad Guys™, I played along on my couch. I was like one of those old people who sat at home and said they were armchair travelers.
Anyway, the hero of Purchased Power was John Moore – a “man’s man”. I was reminded throughout the book of this very important fact in countless ways, although my favourite was John’s juxtaposition against his love interest, Rebecca. Rebecca rarely managed to say anything useful, and was fond of repeating things like, “Oh! Thank you soooo much for being with me John, if you hadn’t I would be dead!” Followed by a dramatic gasp and a swoon. Ok, maybe I exaggerated – she saved her fainting for dangerous and inopportune situations involving guns. Completely disregarding her career and experience as a cop (and lawyer). Heh. It was rather humourous, though.
However, and this was a big however, the writing stopped me from enjoying the story as much as I could have. The first major issue was the unnecessary detail. I know I whined about this when I reviewed Dracula, but Purchased Power took it to a whole new level. Have a quick summary of an (example) two pages:
John showers, then eats, then heads out for lunch, but not before he thinks about the club reception getting him a car, then asks reception to get him a car, which they say they’d love to, and one turns up, which he gets in, and the driver’s rather nice, so he asks the driver where to go for lunch, and the driver tells him, so he goes to lunch, but he gets attacked by Chinese triad members, luckily he uses martial arts to kick their asses, so he gets back into the car to contact his friend to ask for advice, before driving back to his boat, then he gives the driver a tip and…
A box of cookies to whoever can dredge up the important stuff.
Secondly, despite the obvious differences between each character (age, nationality, grasp of language, personality etc), all the dialogue within the book sounded like it was spoken by a Caucasian, middle-aged, impeccably polite and educated man. Somehow, I don’t think this could have passed off as an ironic nod to post-colonialism theory.
Finally, whilst the sentence structure etc were all correct, the novel as a whole was missing that certain je ne sais quoi that distinguishes the art of creative writing from its non-fiction counterpart.
So I find myself back on the couch, ostentatiously wearing a different set of pj’s, and am once again musing on the relative importance of the writing vs the actual story. Purchased Power was one of those books that I could chill-out to, a genre that I enjoyed, yet it still managed to touch on the issues of globalisation, post-colonialism and capitalism without coming across as boring (a mean feat indeed). Also, I really, really liked all the stuff about each country subsequently visited throughout the book. There was this one bit where John and Rebecca escaped through remnants of the Kowloon Walled City, and another in which they hid out at a leper colony that wasn’t listed on any maps. Moreover, seeing the effect of ‘Westernisation’ on many Asian countries was an interesting experience – especially as the book made me question whether this was a result of technology, or more about the growing emphasis (whatever the media says) on capitalism and greediness.
On top of that, the book was like a step-by-step guide to business development – John owned a yacht-making company, and he made some excellent contacts during his adventures. It seems that the old adage is true; the majority of deals aren’t made in the office. My inner businesswoman was cheering John on, and simultaneously resolving to take up a hobby in which I could meet powerful people. And that was the point of the book – power comes from money. Once you have it, you can do anything you set your mind to. Except kill a yacht-maker.
Ignoring the whole assassination attempt thing, Purchased Power was quite an inspirational story, and it made me want to work my way up the ladder so that I could live the jet-setting lifestyle and start my own business … although the whole action/suspense thing was really cool, so maybe I’ll just become a spy?
So, despite being rather invested in the plot, I often had to force myself to keep reading.
Either a ruthless editor had needed to be employed, or a movie would have been a better medium for the story. Luckily, I have it on good authority that the author is working on a screenplay for this book. I’m imaging something a little Bourne Identity-esque, in which case I am so there.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to find some cheap flights out of the country.