Newton’s Swing by Chris Paling
Chris Paling has written nine novels, but it’s taken those nine to get some real recognition via being chosen as one of Fiction Uncovered’s 2011 crop of the best authors you haven’t read yet with his book Nimrod’s Shadow.
That book is in my TBR pile, but I discovered I already had an earlier one of his novels Newton’s Swing , which was published in 2000, so I decided to read that first.
Susan lies dead on her bed, shot in the side. Her husband John, has dialled 911, but is shocked and confused, and is unsure what to do. Rewind a decade…
John Wayne is an Englishman, an ad-man working in New York who finds ‘the world is split between those that make a joke about my name, and those who don’t’. Naturally, he prefers those who don’t. He works for Angel, head of the agency, who is famed for his ‘parties’, where no-one goes by their own name. ‘That way even if the girls get hurt, reputations stay safe.’ John meets a beautiful art dealer, Susan, (whom Angel knows as Leona), and despite the instant hatred between John and her best friend Angela, they become a couple and have a son, Jordan.
John tells his story through his relationships with friends, colleagues and family. Flicking back and forward through the years, contrasting episodes from his life with Susan to the fall-out of her murder, and the re-building of the bond with his son, and eventually auditioning replacements for Susan.
John is racked with grief, guilt, self-doubt. Eventually someone is jailed for Susan’s murder, but you never feel that they got the right man. All the way through as we negotiate life’s quagmire with John, there are moments when you think you know what happened, but then again …
Wayne is a complex character, an outsider who somehow manages to fit in, but not completely. ‘Susan’s world had a secret door to it. A few people had the key: Angela, a couple of other women, Jordan, perhaps another man. Not me.’ All of them have something to hide, yet it is obvious that he and Susan did have something, but they connected on another wavelength entirely.
Written in a taut and sparing style, I was drawn from the beginning into John’s world. Regardless of whether I trusted his memory or not, I wanted him to come out of his internalising of Susan’s death, and to really get to know his son. There is some humour and light, but John’s story is serious, a little cold and aloof and an absolutely compelling read. I’m going to have to read a lot more of Paling’s books if they’re this good. (9.5/10)
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