Martini Henry by Sara Crowe

Review published on June 27, 2016.

After hearing lots of positive feedback about Sara Crowe’s debut novel, Campari for Breakfast, I was excited to read her latest release, Martini Henry. From the first page it’s clear that Crowe’s novel is one of a kind. Her style, voice and characterisation are certainly original as the novel traces eighteen-year-old protagonist Sue Bowl’s search for wisdom, writing success and love, as told through journal entries, letters, word lists, writing examples, her aunt’s to-do list and curiously an early twentieth-century story about an orphan that links (conspicuously) to Sue’s present.

And whilst I liked the mix of formats and diverse entries, overall the story lacked momentum and plot and the pace was bogged down by the introspectiveness of the narrative. Indeed, I found Sue a very self-indulgent character and not one that particularly endears herself, or even tries to, to the reader. The extracts from the fictional early twentieth-century novel Sue reads were for me, tellingly, the most striking and engaging elements of the novel, but their inclusion, indeed the whole connection between this and Sue’s own story, felt much too contrived. It all read to me as a novel putting on a performance of a novel.

I found the first quarter of the story particularly slow, and although I grew into more, the whole reading experience seemed too effortful. Having said all of this, there is a real originality and eccentricity to the novel that other readers may love and it certainly feels as if the reader is being transported into the wonderfully singular space of the author’s imagination. In addition there are some nice touches of wit and humour throughout. Unfortunately however for me the book just didn’t quite work, which I was really sorry about. But certainly readers who enjoy books that are a little off the beaten track might find just what they’re looking for in this one.

Jade Craddock 2/2

Martini Henry by Sara Crowe
Doubleday 978-0857523129 hbk Jun 2016

dir91 – Nov pbk?

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