I have fallen so far behind with my reviews recently due to other commitments (not least, the writing of my own novel) but I simply had to find time to bring this one to the top of the review pile. I received James Warner’s novel All Her Father’s Guns to review just before Christmas, after reading some samples on his website. I am so glad that I got hold of a copy, as it turned out to be one of the most pleasant reading surprises of 2010.
To the best of my knowledge, this is James Warner’s first novel, and the slick writing style coupled with his dark, dark humour have certainly whetted my appetite for more.
Read on for a full review…
It certainly won’t do you any favours if you try to pigeon-hole this novel from its first few pages. After the initial three chapters, with its academic setting, it had me thinking I might be reading an updated Lucky Jim type of story, and a pretty promising one at that, but then the plot swoops off in all manner of unexpected directions. True, you almost know you are in for a bit of fun right from the outset, with lead characters bearing names like Reid Seyton and Cal Lyte, but we’ll discuss the humour later. To set the scene a little, Reid is an English ex-pat, working in a rather insecure tenure in the Department of Theory at Berkeley. Cal is a gun-toting ultra right-wing industrialist, who is in the throes of an acrimonious split from his wife. Reid’s girlfriend happens to be Cal’s daughter Lyllyan — a rebellious foil to her father’s strict and upright character — and, as Reid’s academic career slips down the tubes, he finds himself inexorably drawn further and further into Cal’s world.
It would probably be difficult to shoe-horn a greater number of theme elements into a single novel, and here we find under the microscope: US politics, gun law, reliance on therapy, the pro-choice/pro-life debate and also a comparison of the morality of academia to that of industry. There are no doubt a few more, but you get the picture. Now the very sound of this might have you running for the hills in terror, at the thought of some worthy left-wing lecture rather than an entertaining read, but, I’m happy to report, this fear couldn’t be less justified.
One of the cleverest achievements of this book, is the way in which you find yourself relating to those characters who would typically be cast as beyond the pale or, at the very least, slightly loopy. It is also a fast paced read, packing a great deal into fewer than 200 pages. But above all, the thing to savour most is the dark and extremely dry humour. I think that apart from his obvious storytelling ability, it is perhaps Warner’s slightly distanced perspective as an outsider-looking-in, that facilitates this humour and gives the novel its distinct character. It isn’t playing for belly laughs, it just continuously hits the spot in pointing out the absurd.
If you are interested in stories that have a political underpinning, and are open-minded enough that you don’t need the writer to re-enforce any existing leanings, then I’m sure you are going to love this book. I also feel it would make a great reading group choice, as there is just so much in it to discuss. I personally found it to be thought provoking, funny, and highly readable. I would solidly recommend it!
Already read All Her Father’s Guns? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.
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