A Case of Knives by Candia McWilliam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Like a set of Russian dolls A Case of Knives reveals a new face in each section as different characters become the focus and narrator of the plot. What I particularly liked about this is that as you begin a new section you suddenly see everything from a new viewpoint and the new information allows you to reconfigure your impression of the characters. Unfortunately, all the characters speak in nearly the same slightly too ornate voice, which somewhat spoils the effect of a new outlook. Also, the novel spends far too long with just Lucas as first person narrator; I began to be bored at the constant presence of his distinctive and twister character and was relieved when I discovered that the novel moved on to the other characters.
The bizarre character of Anne Cowdenbeath was my favourite because I never quite knew what to make of her. Much like real people she eluded full explanation and understanding; she was far too eccentric and mysterious yet at the same time quite believable and consistent as a character. Though her name didn't quite work, which is what I thought of almost every name in the book.
My main criticisms would be the language McWilliam uses, it is too florid, otiose and has dramatically improved my vocabulary, hardly what I look for in a novel. In small doses it would have been brilliant but after a while I just got annoyed at having to look things up in a dictionary and stopped bothering. Structurally I would have preferred the "Lucas" section at the start to be shorter and to have seen more of the other characters. Or, and this might have made it a truly unforgettable read, I would have like McWilliam to have included more of the other character's narrations but without revealing the secrets they had until later in the book. Overall I found it a disturbing and compelling novel that saved, possibly at the cost of pacing and balance, all the best stuff for the end.
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