Do you ever get that glorious feeling of connecting with a book — like it was personally written just for you? Stephen Baker’s excellent first novel Hemispheres hit me just like that. Even from the moment I first saw the cover, as a keen bird watcher myself, I just had a feeling it was going to be right up my street.
But whilst there is a strong birding theme which runs throughout the book, and without doubt it will delight the bird watching fraternity, there is so much more to it than that. It really is a cauldron of human relationships and experience, which the author has cleverly woven into a highly exciting and beautifully intricate storyline.
Read on for a full review…
As gritty and uncompromising as this novel is at times, to dismiss it as just another blokey adventure would really be missing its brilliance. Set against the backdrop of a violent post-industrial Tees-side wasteland and the icy waters of The Falklands, it does have an undeniably action packed storyline, but it is the delicate inspection of the lives, loves and fates of the characters that are its real strength. And that is without even mentioning its sometimes rather surreally delivered sub-theme, which explores the way in which chance plays such a huge part in how the paths of our lives pan out.
Yan is the pelagic wanderer, his son Danny is the non-migratory stay at home type. In chapters that each have species of bird as their theme, it is slowly unfolded to the reader what is in the heart of the traveller and how those left behind come to terms with their absence. As already mentioned, the seeming randomness that governs the way in which our lives run their course is dealt with bravely and unconventionally by the writer (in ways that I won’t reveal for fear of spoiling it for the reader) but do be prepared for the unexpected.
The storyline is often violent and some of the characters will leave you less than uplifted, but this is more than adequately balanced by the inner sensitivity of others, and also by Stephen Baker’s excellent descriptive skills. The latter conjure up vivid images of the landscape and the birds featured in each chapter — whichever hemisphere the story happens to be visiting.
Were there any downsides? A lack of speech marks is one pet hate of mine, although you may be pleased to hear that it doesn’t dispense with any other punctuation. Possibly a little heavy on the cigarette smoke based imagery too, but that is being exceptionally harsh on a book that is, on the whole, beautifully written.
If you like your adventure delivered with a nice side helping of the cerebral — something that exercises the mind as well as stirring the adrenaline — then I can’t recommend this book too highly. Not to be missed.
Already read Hemispheres? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.
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