Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris and Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Many of you may know the work of Robert Harris, a British journalist and author of successful historical novels such as Fatherland and Enigma as well as thrillers such as The Ghost and Archangel. This most recent one is about the hunt for the regicides – those who signed the death warrant of Charles I – instigated after Charles II had been restored to the throne. The story follows two of the regicides who had fled to Puritan New England and describes the many years of solitude and discomfort they endured. Their pursuer, tasked by the Privy Council to track them down, will stop at nothing to capture them dead or alive. The hunt that follows demonstrates the strength of feeling on both sides of this relentless pursuit. As a reader I felt understanding and sympathy for all the main characters, and the personal stories of each of the men helped you to understand their motivations. Harris is an excellent storyteller with an eye for enough detail to bring this troubled period of history to life. Despite years when there is little action the story is so compelling you really want to know how it finishes. If anything, the ending seemed a little too neat and tidy but that doesn’t distract from the overall tale being told. Certainly, a good read. 

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

I’m a big Charles Dickens fan, but you certainly don’t have to have read David Copperfield to enjoy this blockbuster of a book. I think you need stamina as it’s a very long novel, which teems with life and certainly is unforgettable. Kingsolver’s narrator is extremely likeable. He suffers an unimaginably awful childhood – a modern equivalent of the brutality and suffering that David endured – and tries to make his way in society in the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, the area that the author herself knows so well. She feels passionately about the addiction to prescription opioids that she witnesses daily, with the dire consequences of poverty, crime and unemployment, and she wants her readers to share her anger and indignation at those who manipulate the pain of others. Her writing is striking: she sweeps you along, never resorting to cliché and always startling you with brilliantly original imagery. I could visualise everything clearly even though her landscapes are not known to me personally.
I found parts of the narrative quite exhausting – similar to that experienced by many readers of the brilliant Scottish novel Shuggie Bain. But alongside the grim descriptions of addiction and recovery, we witness extraordinary determination, compassion, love and hope. I found this to be a deeply moving book, different from her other novels, but well worth the time and effort.

[We have copies of Act of Oblivion and Demon Copperhead in the Library.]