My Dearest Jonah by Matthew Crow
|My Dearest Jonah by Matthew Crow|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A fast moving and sometimes brutal thriller following two pen-friends try to escape their pasts and outwit fate to forge a new future, whatever that may entail. It may be laid out as letters, but that small technical point can be (and is a better read if) ignored.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: May 2012|
|Publisher: Legend Press|
Jonah and Verity start to write to each other as part of a pen-pal scheme. They may only meet on paper but, as they reveal themselves and their pasts through their letters, they become the only constant in each of their existences, and what existences. Jonah has a troubled past (to put it mildly) including a stint in prison and a father serving a life sentence. Verity is the product of working class parents with aspirations which she has failed or refused to meet, splitting her working life between the local coffee shop and the local strip joint. Their futures begin to appear a lot brighter than their pasts but then clouds gather to prove that appearances can be deceptive.
This, young Geordie writer Matthew Crow's second book is rather interesting. Forsaking the north east of England he knows and reproduced in his debut (Ashes) he based this book further west, as in small town America. His aim to write the book as letters between Jonah and Verity is a useful technique (for instance, CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters) but, there's a mild glitch. Where My Dearest Jonah is concerned, these aren't letters.
The 'letters' may start with 'Dear' and end with a sign-off, but the rest is almost totally alternate first person point of view, i.e. a whole episode is related including word for word conversations and without acknowledgement of it being written to someone. There's the occasional comment or paragraph aimed at the letter's recipient, but this is slightly out of kilter as the language for these brief interludes is different - mannered, stilted and not, perhaps, in keeping with the level of schooling the two would be expected to have. Don't misunderstand me though; this is not a bad thing. This will appeal to people who don't like books written as letters and, also, the author writes first person alternating points of view very well. In fact, once the letter format is ignored and expectations adjusted, the story takes flight.
The first thing you'll notice is that this is atmosphere-saturated prose. Whether it's the seediness of the strip club or the doom hovering over the townspeople enjoying the fair, the gathering sense of menace and foreboding grows with each page. Cleverly, Crow begun with a slight hint of menace; just enough to ensure enticement. Then the crescendo grows and explodes. (For those of a delicate disposition, there are scenes of graphic, bloody violence that I imagine would earn a certificate 15 if filmed.) Also there is no neatly tied up ending, and that takes a certain confidence to achieve this well.
The perilous feel is nothing if the characterisation isn't right though, but Crow has this covered... mostly. Verity and Jonah may not be loveable, but they're sympathetic; you can't help wanting them to rise above anything thrown at them. Jonah comes across as someone who has fallen into trouble due to upbringing and peer pressure rather than malicious tendencies. By contrast, Verity has chosen her lifestyle wanting to experience everything, never turning an opportunity down. She is strong and empowered by living rather than its victim. Michael, Jonah's old friend, is another person who feels very real but discussing him here would be a spoiler so... moving on...
The other characters feel perhaps two-dimensional. This works where Verity's fellow 'exotic dancers' are concerned because, apart from Eve, Verity isn't there to befriend them. However characters like the sinister 'J' and the nefarious 'King Pin' deserve a meatier presence. Having said this, Jonah and Verity are both big enough personalities to fill the void.
All considered this is a novel that defies you to put it down and will haunt you once you think it's come to an end. My Dearest Jonah would have been so much better minus letters, but even within that context, it would be a shame to pass it by.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you enjoyed this and would like to read another novel about someone trying to re-master their future, this time in the UK, we suggest Tears of a Phoenix by Helen Noble.
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