Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT E.L reviews Carla by Mark Barry @GreenWizard62

Today’s review is from E.L Lindley she blogs at http://lindleyreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

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E.L. chose to read and review Carla by Mark Barry.

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Carla is a compulsive, unrelenting novel in which Mark Barry gives a human face to mental illness. It is the story of John Dexter, a 42 year old man with a personality disorder so extreme he is unable to live independently. Most of his adult life has been spent in prison, mental health facilities or being financially supported by his wealthy father.

However, the novel is about so much more than that and I suspect that every reader probably takes away something different after reading it. In the novel, John describes one of his fellow patients, a woman with a seriously disfigured face, and reflects how when people look into it it’s like a mirror, revealing more about them than the woman herself and I dare say the same might be said of John. For me, it’s a novel about redemption and a man being finally able to accept who he is.

Mark Barry is more than a weaver of stories; he is a master craftsman who makes brave choices not only with his subject matter but in his choice of language and the way he plays with our expectations of style and form. From the outset the tone is chatty and light, in direct contrast with John’s thoughts and feelings. Barry ensures that we connect with John, creating a dialogue between us that then challenges us to distance ourselves from him as he reveals the full extent of his ‘madness’.

As John’s tale unfolds, Barry never lets us forget who is in charge as he drip feeds us John’s back story, playfully switching between narrative and exposition. We are given glimpses of John’s past with references to explosive episodes and their consequences so that, even when he tries to show restraint in difficult situations, we are primed and ready when he eventually loses it in a spectacularly dramatic fashion.

John’s disorder is one where he develops obsessive feelings towards women and we get to witness his torment in his relationship with Carla. Carla is a woman young enough to be his daughter, who evokes a protective instinct in John that proves to be his salvation. His need to protect someone becomes greater than his need for affirmation and love.

John’s relationship with Carla is not his whole story; it’s simply a slice of a life that has been defined by unhappiness and pain. It is, for John, however, a life changing period and possibly the most precious time of his life – “A life in just over ten weeks.” Regardless of the outcome of the novel (which I won’t reveal) John’s story is never going to be a happy one. Barry foreshadows the tragedy that John carries around with him by recurrent references to suicide. For example, John has spent each morning and evening since the age of 15 contemplating ways to commit suicide. For me, one of the most poignant lines in the novel comes when John asks us, “Can you imagine a life where you never wake up feeling well?”

Carla is not an easy read but it is an important one and it forces us to face the reality of mental illness. Barry takes us on a tour of the mental health system with its reliance on drugs, talk therapy and the more invasive ECT whilst tenderly offering us a glimpse of characters like Leroy, a murderer for whom there is no chance of rehabilitation. Barry gives us no answers but, by giving us John, he invites us to acknowledge that maybe, given the right set of circumstances, we are all just one step away from madness.

As John loses his heart to Carla, he cautions us to fear for her safety but, ironically it is John himself who garners our sympathy. A man who, as a little boy, was left so traumatised by his mother’s abandonment of him and his subsequent brutal experience of public school, his personality fractured in a way that he can never recover from. It is John’s self-awareness that is his saviour. It allows us to forgive him all his failings and allows him to finally accept himself for who he is.

Carla is a novel that will leave you feeling battered and bruised but ultimately in a better place for having read it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Barb reviews The Night Porter by Mark Barry

Today we have a review from Barb, she blogs at http://barbtaub.com/

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Barb chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry

Do you know a writer? They need this book.

unnamed-4And while you’re at it, you may as well get yourself a copy too. Whether you’re a margin scribbler, page corner dog-ear-turner, or even spine cracker—for which, BTW, you belong in hell—there’s no way you’ll be able to pass The Night Porter off as a pristine new gift copy once you’ve combed through it. Nor, for that matter, will you be willing to give it up.


The Story

 
 

untitledOne prestigious awards ceremony. Eight hundred years worth of hotel. Four authors. Two weeks. Six million dollars.

One man to keep it under control…

 
 
The Night Porter is set in a hotel, in November, in the fictional town of Wheatley Fields, (based on Southwell, near Nottinghamshire, deep in Sherwood Forest). It takes place over two weeks, underneath steel grey clouds and icy rain. Four writers, all nominated for an upcoming awards ceremony, come to stay. One mega successful romance author, a top US thriller writer who sells in seven figures, a beautiful young YA tyro on the brink of world wide stardom… …and a degenerate, nasty, bitter, jealous, trollish, drunken (but brilliant), self-published contemporary fiction author. The eponymous, pseudonymous and anonymous Night Porter is instructed by a secretive and powerful awards committee to look after their EVERY need, to ensure they make it through the two weeks to attend the ceremony. At the same time as keeping an eye on their wishes, antics, fights, relationships and never-ending ego explosions. And trying desperately to avoid getting involved himself. It’s a comedy drama about writers (and Night Porters!) with twists and turns, nooks and crannies, shadows and mirrors, alongside some of my bizarre preoccupations and obsessions. It casts a sometimes shadowy light on modern publishing, the writing business – and the people in it. Writers who like to read about writers and writing will enjoy the book.



gold starMy Review: 5 out of 5 stars for THE NIGHT PORTER by Mark Barry

Mark Barry, author of Hollywood Shakedown, the highly acclaimed Carla and the top selling Ultra-Violence, is a writer and publisher based in Nottingham and Southwell. He writes extensively on a variety of topics including, horseracing, football, personality disorders and human relationships, but most recently, he writes about life in Nottingham and monitors closely its ever changing face. Mark has been interviewed on several Radio chat shows where he has given readings of his work. His writing has been featured in the national press, and he has also been interviewed on television. Mark resides in Southwell, Nottinghamshire and has one son, Matthew.

Face it: we all love to see ourselves. Artists paint pictures of other artists, or paint themselves into other art. (Really, da Vinci? The Mona Lisa?) Hollywood loves to make movies about people making movies. And if a story ever comes up about a journalist, the guys on the six-o’clock news practically wet themselves covering it from every possible angle.

So when I heard that Mark Barry’s The Night Porter was about the run-up to a Booker-like literary awards ceremony, I added it to my TBR (to be read) list. I’m not a huge fan of literary fiction so I wasn’t in any hurry. That was until I received a review copy through #RBRT, Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team. Less than a chapter in, I was laughing out loud, scaring my husband and the dog by yelling, “Hell, yeah!” (a lot), giving up cooking (you can so live on cereal and caffeine), plus abandoning personal hygiene (mostly), sleep (overrated), and all human contact (still walked the dog, of course) until I finished it.

I usually do reviews from digital copies. As I read, I try to highlight or add one or two comments. But Mark sent me an actual physical book. Okay, no problem. An old desk set gift included a package of those little paper sticky tabs, so I decided to use them to mark one or two of the best places. There are a few pages without sticky tabs. Not many, though. It’s just that good.

From the moment we meet the Night Porter at the luxury Saladin Inn, it’s clear that he’s abandoned anything which doesn’t fit in his carefully crafted persona. “I am a night porter. I am the night porter.” Because the person he’s invented only exists in one environment, the rest of his life is as bare as possible. He hasn’t had sex in six years. His apartment isn’t a home, but just a place to sleep. “My flat doesn’t have a single extraneous decorative object anywhere in sight. My bathroom is a Bauhaus example of pure Germanic functionalism.”

He may pretend that he doesn’t see the hotel as an extension of himself, but by page 8 he acknowledges the truth as he introduces readers to Cat, the hotel’s general manager. “She’s quite nice, for the profession. It’s just that she likes to think of herself as the ultimate professional, and so do I, so it’s not good for the two of us to occupy the same space. It defies immutable laws of physics.” Cat informs the Night Porter that the hotel has been fortunate to host four of the finalists in the upcoming mega-million dollar Arkwright Literary Fiction Award—romance novelist Amy Cook, YA fantasy writer Jo Marron-Saint, thriller writer Frank Duke, and self-published indie writer Julian Green. Julian’s is the bitter, probably alcoholic voice of truth, whose caustic judgmental derision can’t hide the fact that the other three have achieved commercial success that will probably never be his.

As the bemused Night Porter unwillingly becomes part of the lives of the hotel’s literary guests, he finds himself unravelling the mysteries of their connections, both to each other and to their individual writing. When those personal interactions explode into violence, the Night Porter’s involvement in the lives of his literary guests threatens his view of his job, himself, and his world. As a reader, I cared. By then, these complex three-dimensional characters were living and breathing people and writers. I wanted each of them to win their award, achieve success, and find happiness.

Figuring out the actual who-done-it, however, is almost irrelevant because Mark Barry is a genius. Through his merciless and loving evisceration of each genre, we know these writers. Even more, we know their world. In the long and often hilarious footnotes, we see lists of contestants and books that are a microcosm of publishing. There are inside writing jokes. For example, the luxuriously published and elegantly displayed case of previous contest winners displayed in the hotel lobby contains titles that we know by familiar—but indie—writers (right, Terry Tyler?).

So do you have to be a writer to love The Night Porter? Well, they say everyone has at least one book in them, and that potentially makes us all writers. But this goes beyond the act of setting down words—which most writers admit is the easy part—to dwell with loving viciousness on the industry of publishing. Of course, there are the indie problems, as self-publishing Julian explains to the Night Porter. When it only takes the click of a mouse to publish, everybody publishes books. But there is also the publishing paradox: readers want stories they already know in genre’s they’re familiar with. So both traditional and self-publishing gives them what they want, and closes ranks against anything else.

With the fact echoing in readers’ heads that The Night Porter is itself a literary fiction novel written by an indie author, it’s amusing to hear romance novelist Amy explain the fundamental insecurity of self-published writers like Julian.

“— the Ritual,” she interrupted. “He’s not been through it, and it kills him. He has a fear of rejection. He’s scared. The Ritual cures you of that. You see, I know. I’m an author. I have no insecurities because my work has been examined and judged. Not just by readers, but by professionals. It has survived the slush pile. It has been laughed at, rejected, beaten, shunned — and this is by friends. It has survived editors. Some of whom are more vicious than Julian will ever be. That isn’t because of inherent insecurity, that’s because they are bad; plain, ordinary, bad people.”

But Barry knows that’s too easy. He writes, and writes incredibly well. And he self-publishes. Why?

It’s about people. It’s about reading. It’s about the joy of books.

It’s about love.

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Alison reviews Carla by Mark Barry

Today we have a review from team member Alison, she blogs at http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

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Alison chose to read and review Carla by Mark Barry

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Carla by Mark Barry

This intriguing novel tells the story of John Dexter, a man with severe mental health issues. John falls in love far too easily and far too quickly, his feelings too intense both for him and for the women who find themselves at the receiving end of his affections. John is a complex character; the glimpses we are given of his past account for his thirst for reciprocated attention and add a real depth to the novel. The first person viewpoint draws you in, and you find yourself alternately rooting for John and then feeling so frustrated by him that you want to reach into the book and shake him – all the while knowing that it isn’t his fault and that he can’t help himself.

John has Borderline Personality Disorder – a disorder that causes sufferers to have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships, with an extremely heightened fear of abandonment. This aspect was handled very sensitively but realistically. John is well aware of his issues, but this self-awareness doesn’t mean he has control, and part of the skill of the writing is that it conveys so well John’s own frustration at his inability to change how he knows things will end, while putting the reader through those same frustrations. His pursuit of young student and barmaid Carla is alternately touching and terrifying.

The narrative is, on the whole, believable and compelling and Mark Barry can definitely write and write well. However, there were a couple of issues with the book that prevented me from loving it.

It might sound pedantic to some, but the author consistently capitalises the ‘he’ or ‘she’ following a closing speech mark after question marks and exclamation marks as in:

“Who?” She replied.

“Can you have a look at those stats for me?” She asked optimistically.

Trivial? Possibly, but for me this became distracting, detracting from the text and spoiling my enjoyment of the novel. For me at least, attention to detail is vital.

I also felt that a couple of scenes weren’t realistic – I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoiling the plot, but I didn’t really understand John dressing as a woman for the open day. I can understand that his disorder might have driven him to do this, but would he really have got away with it? I also felt the final scenes at Carla’s house were rushed and could have used more detail.

Does this mean the book is bad? No, on the contrary, this is a very good book. Does this prevent me from recommending it? Not at all, I absolutely recommend it. But these things are enough to prevent me giving ‘Carla’ five stars, which is a shame.

Four out of five stars.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

 

 

 

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT E.L. Reviews The Night Porter by Mark Barry

Today we have a review from team member E.L Lindley she blogs at http://lindleyreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

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E.L chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry

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My only concern with Mark Barry’s wickedly clever book, The Night Porter, is that I may not be able to fully do it justice in my review. It really is a joy to read and a novel that operates on many different levels.

Superficially it can be enjoyed as an observational take on life in a high-end hotel, as narrated to us by the night porter. It focuses in particular on a short period of time leading up to the Arkwright literary awards, in which the hotel will play a pivotal role, not least because it will become temporary home to four of the writers. The novel develops into something of a mystery as one of the writers is attacked in his room and left for dead.

Barry’s tour de force is about so much more than this though. Throughout the novel, Barry skilfully affords us a playful metaphorical nod to the art of writing and never lets us forget that he is in fact constructing a story. He deftly raises the question of what it means to be a writer and whether one form of writing is any more valid than another. Barry uses the character of Julian Green, an acclaimed indie writer who despises the more commercial writers, to represent the ‘literary’ school of writing. There is the constant reference to the “paradox” within writing, whereby what is popular and successful is not necessarily ‘good literature’.

Barry’s exploration of writing as a craft is made even more effective by his own brave experimentation with the novel form. Julian makes the comment that, to be successful, “footnotes and fancy titles” should be avoided and yet, ironically, Barry makes excellent use of both these devices. They lend the novel both a dry sense of humour and, in the case of the footnotes, a deeper glimpse into the mind of the night porter.

The heart of the novel is of course the eponymous night porter. He is a complex and at times devious character, who captivates the reader with his gloriously prissy and yet sincere account of his life in the hotel. The night porter is a man defined by his job, hence his anonymous status, and in the beginning it would seem he is nothing without it. He subsumes his own identity to the needs of the job and we get the idea of him being like an iceberg, with only ten percent of who he is on show to the public. He seems to have no close friends outside of the hotel and reveals that he has been celibate for six years.

The night porter prides himself on his isolationist stance as a “lone wolf” but, as he becomes more and more infatuated with the writers, we begin to question the impartiality of his view point. He is smitten by the romance writer Amy Cook and hates the “sociable nazi” Martin Sixsmith, who is the bar manager and his nemesis. The night porter may be the “all-seeing eye” of the novel but Barry never lets us forget that he is a human being with all of the flaws and prejudices that are part and parcel of that.

The novel ends in a froth of fun when, like a magician Barry pulls aside the curtain, affording the reader a tiny peek at the mechanisms behind crafting a story. The Night Porter is, without a doubt, indie writing at its best. It is an intelligent, funny and most of all engaging novel and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Cathy reviews Carla by Mark Barry

Today’s book review comes from team member Cathy, she blogs at http://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com

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Cathy chose to read and review Carla by Mark Barry

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An extraordinary story, fascinatingly and honestly narrated by John Dexter, forty-two years old and from a wealthy background. John has a history of mental illness, or more precisely Borderline Personality Disorder, and has been in and out of psychiatric care for years. The most recent being ‘three years of intense psychotherapy’ with the associated medications, some of which were experimental. Now he’s living alone in a flat funded by his father who, rather than hands on help, prefers to throw money at John and hope for the best. And taking into account John’s mother left when he was at an impressionable age his self abandonment issues begin to seem a little more understandable.

On a visit to one of the local pubs John meets, Carla, the young barmaid and he is immediately lost. John knows the scenario well and he also knows his behaviour is illogical but is powerless to stop. During the course of the narrative he explains in detail how he’s unable to cope rationally and emotionally with his feelings and the inevitably of his doomed relationships.

With Carla, John is able to curb his more extreme inclinations, and to his surprise Carla seems to like him. They share an interest in the environment and take walks together. Their developing friendship brings unwelcome consequences by throwing other characters into the mix and showing Carla to be a more complex character than at first thought.

John’s story is a very individual one, reflective and disturbing, told with no holds barred and in great detail. The writing is brilliant. A raw journey inside the mind of the protagonist and his analysis of the disorder that’s influenced and blighted his life. The daily struggle he faces is heart breaking and described beautifully with a wry humour that charms. It’s a compelling, tragic and sometimes immensely brutal story, with an ending I was not expecting and one that will stay with me for quite some time, I think.

5 out of 5 stars

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Vanessa reviews The Night Porter by Mark Barry

Today we have a review from team member Vanessa, she blogs at http://www.vanessawesterwriter.blogspot.com

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Vanessa chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry

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My Review…
What a different kind of book this was! Based on a “Night Porter” whose perspective on life is about to change radically by the arrival of four authors nominated for prestigious writing awards.
Amy – bestselling author of romantic fiction.
Frank – author of highly acclaimed thrillers.
Jo – young exciting writer of YA.
And last, but not least, Frank – self-published (practically unknown) writer of contemporary fiction.
I have to admit that at first I found this difficult to get into. I personally don’t drink (rarely ever) or smoke and the constant mention of alcohol and smoking put me off. This is a personal dislike of course. It did help to set the tone for these characters and I think this was why I did not like them much at first. BUT, as you read on you start to understand that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.
This is not just about an award ceremony! Truthfully, I had no idea what was coming and I will give no spoilers.
These are the thing you have to bear in mind…
Who is paying for Frank to stay at the hotel? Apparently, everyone hates him and what he represents.
Why does Amy come across so broken? She is a huge author about to perhaps win a major award after all.
Is Jo as nice as she seems?
Are Frank and Amy having an affair in the dark of the night?
So many questions. Read it for the answers.
I did NOT see the ending coming and because of this I loved it, even though at first it was not for me. I have to say that the turning point was the major bust-up in the bar – what a fantastic description! I was glued to the book after that.
I have to admit that having attended the IOW Literary Festival last year and given a talk as a self-published local author, I know the feeling of not stacking up against the big boys! Ha ha…
I read it in paperback and the use of footnotes threw me off a lot at first, but once I got used to them it was okay.
*I received this book via Rosie’s Book Review Team for an honest review*
Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Emily reviews The Night Porter by Mark Barry

Today we have a review from team member Emily, she blogs at http://lifebetweenbookends.tumblr.com/

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Emily chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry

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The Night Porter is comedic, dramatic and most of all incredibly entertaining. We are introduced to ‘The Night Porter’ who is a hardworking man so completely devoted to his job, he is only referred to by his title and above all he values his crucial dedication to the smooth running of The Saladin Inn.
When the Arkwright Literary Awards decide to pay for 4 of their shortlisted authors, Amy, Jo, Frank and Julian, to stay in The Saladin for two weeks, it is the Night Porters duty to ensure their every need is met. Though his charm and small talk welcomes the guests graciously, no amount of polite smiles could lower tensions between the authors themselves. We witness the Night Porter falter in his professionalism as he experiences attraction towards guests, an obvious disliking towards a colleague and inconspicuously tries to unearth the past cause of Amy and Julian’s blatant hatred towards each other.
As the awards loom and nerves rise, a sudden tragedy befalls one of the authors and the carefully organised awards night seems to be crumbling into pieces. We follow the Night Porter as he struggles to do what he usually does best- maintain order.
Mark Barry has managed to not only blend laughter and suspense so well into one story but also creates vivid characters and enthralling dilemmas. This book lacks nothing but it’s own literary award and overall was a delightful read.
Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com