If you are looking for a New Zealand novel to spend your NZ Book Month voucher on, here’s a good one.
Soon picks up the story of politician David Hallwright of Grimshaw’s The Night Book a couple of years down the track. Hallwright is now Prime Minister and is on summer holiday at his beachside compound north of Auckland with his posse of friends, family, and colleagues. The days are long and hot and you can almost smell the money oozing from the pages. This is how the wealthy and powerful holiday at the beach, from the personal trainers, tennis courts, and luxury yachts, to the cocktails served by the ever-hovering staff.
As in The Night Book, the focus of the story is on prominent obstetrician Simon Lampton and his friendship with the magnetic Hallwright family. The beautiful, but rather vacuous, Elke who was adopted by Simon and his wife Karen years earlier is the biological daughter of the Prime Minister’s wife; forever bonding the families in a fragile and silently competitive friendship. However, an encounter between Simon and a documentary filmmaker, Arthur Weeks, threatens to damage both the families’ friendship and the National Party’s public image.
When I reviewed The Night Book two years ago, I mentioned that the characters were “so intensely human and strangely familiar that, despite their many flaws, they remain surprisingly likeable”. Roza, Simon, Karen and David remain intensely human and very very flawed but the intervening years have hardened each of them.
Although Grimshaw has done another superb job of breathing life into her characters, I confess I struggled to find any of them at all likeable. These people are shallow, greedy, self-absorbed and bitter. Yet they are oddly compelling. It’s like watching the build-up to a car crash – you know things are headed to a collision yet you can’t look away. As a reader, I usually find that if I don’t like the characters, I can’t like the story. Soon has proved to be the exception to my “rule”: despite really not liking the characters, I still cared very much about discovering what happened to each of them.
One part of the book that I enjoyed less was the twisted fantasy story about Soon the warrior dwarf which was interspersed throughout the book as a game between Roza and her young son. Roza interrupts the book at semi-regular intervals to “make Soon talk” and weaves a weird allegorical tale about the bloodthirsty dwarf and his loyal court. Although clever, it was disruptive and strange.
There is no denying Grimshaw’s cleverness. She’s a fabulous writer and conjures up characters and scenes so vivid you can almost see the heat haze hovering over the deck and smell the sunscreen. Soon is a great summer read – even if summer is, unfortunately, over.
Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis
by Charlotte Grimshaw
Published by Random House