Some books are best left forgotten… 

It’s hard to remember bad novels because good ones make such a lasting impression that they thankfully obliterate the memory of the poor ones. The only impact the poor ones make are on the sides of recycling bins.

I’m not going to name (m) any names, after all, I’m a novelist. I know how much goes into writing a book. For some writers real life is just noise in the background; simply material with which to mould stories and tricky plot knots.

To be fair it’s all a matter of taste. To some people my debut novel the Life Assistance Agency is a glorious collision of the Blues Brothers meets Da-Vinci Code,  while others think it’s really good. The clearest sign that a book is rubbish is when you’re accompanying the reading with sighing sounds. Pages are turned with the sort of dread familiar to anyone who has to take young children swimming later in the day*. I’m pleased no one has yet compared this with mine.

There was a time when I felt obliged, in accordance with some unwritten code rumoured to exist atop himalayan mountains, to finish any book I picked up. I’ve been more loyal to books I dislike than friends I like. This once meant trawling my way through The 91 principles of Cataloging when I mistakenly held it for someone while they jumped off a bridge. To be fair it was a text book. Yet it’s always awkward when friends recommend a book that it turns out to be less readable than a doorstop. (BTW Alan, thankfully I’m throughly enjoying A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman!). You sometimes return a book with a vague nod at having enjoyed it, praying that they don’t press you for enlightening thoughts on what happened at any point beyond page 32.

It’s hard to be objective; one man’s If on a Winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino is another’s 50 shades of Grey, and to be honest it’s hard to slag off books when it’s admirable to find people still actually reading and not scrolling through anodyne updates on social media. However, the idea of reading another novel encompassing cross- generation Irish families with hidden secrets makes me want to suggest taking the kids’ swimming.

Bigger targets are the easiest to hit, and the aforementioned Dan Brown’s Da-Vinci Code really is unreadable to anyone who likes English, sentences and words. One of the best examples of him failing to capture an instantly recognisable human experience is:  

He could taste the familiar tang of museum air – an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon – the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Although, perhaps if most people walk into museums, sniff the air and think ‘is that the arid, deionized essence carrying a faint hint of carbon?’ or ‘how corrosive is my breath exactly?’ then I’ve been kept in the dark. Or rather, the night-long gloom that envelopes sentient beings with an inability to envision where they might be traversing in the dim blackness, as Dan Brown might put it.

It was at the museum point that I decided I had better things to do than follow Robert Langdon running through corridors and libraries, and thought I’d do something else. Like anything. Even DIY, or glossing. It’s so bad that even Ron Howard and Tom Hanks couldn’t make a watchable film of it. The book I mean, not my glossing.

Perhaps its sensible to get in with preemptive attacks, like Daniel Pitts’ book called The Most Boring Book Ever Written, which almost demands critics to argue otherwise.  And the critics are baffling. The Evening Standard described Hanif Kureshi’s The Last Word as ‘brilliantly funny’. Now, I’m aware that daily reporting of London stabbings must cloud your judgement, but it must’ve been a very quiet day in the office for the self-absorbed protagonist, who changes characteristics quicker than you can keep up with them, to be described as brilliant, much less funny. Mind you, Kureshi might think I’m lucky to have my novel beside his, and he’d probably be right.

*More of this in a future blog post.

My novel can of course be reviewed, so I’m hoping Dan Brown or Hanif Kureshi are not reading this.

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here –

and here,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –