And I am always very happy to read first-time novelists, often preferring them to more established names.
by J.A. Mulholland, ticked all these boxes.
Admittedly, I had my doubts about the premise -- an English woman going on "a secret mission into occupied Iraq to save a man she has only met by email" – but felt that the Middle Eastern setting would make up for this.
I was wrong.Aside from the wooden dialogue and the clunky prose style, the main character, Jo Huxley, is intensely unlikable. She’s a London-based 20-something telecomms worker (whatever that is) who’s not only vain and shallow, she’s incredibly naïve to the point of stupidity. What right minded individual responds to a potential spam email with the subject line “They going to kill me!! Why you not helping?” But that is what Jo does and, over a very short space of time, develops an online relationship with Kamaal, a Shia Muslim, who is supposedly holed up in a Kurd area of Iraq fearing for his life and desperate for Jo’s help.
How this man has access to email is anyone’s guess, but Jo questions very little about this man’s circumstances. Indeed, she seems to live in a little bubble in which the world revolves around her and her adulterous boyfriend, James, whom is not all he is cracked up to be.
When Jo accidentally picks up one of James bank statements and discovers he is “collecting” vast sums of money – for instance, £412,000 – and confronts him about it, the issue of her invading James’ privacy is not even raised.
The ensuing arguments all seems rather lacklustre and not very realistic to this reviewer’s eyes. Ditto for Jo’s unscheduled “rescue mission” to Iraq, which she arranges on the back of a legitimate work trip to Damascus. It’s a highly dangerous excursion into war-torn territory and there are glimpses of real tension in the narrative, but, for the most part, the writing is superficial. It’s all tell and no show, as this extract reveals:
We must have walked for more than a few hours before we stopped for a drink. We sat on a ledge of the mountain overlooking the most beautiful and magical sight I had ever laid my eyes upon. It completely blew Crib-y-Ddysgl out of the window. The size and shapes of the landscape around us brought me to tears. The mountains held a sense of mystery and magic. It made me question what our life on earth is all about, I was unsure of what part I had to play in the next phase of my life. Right now I had no concrete direction in which to head and that scared me.
On the whole this is a very disappointing debut novel, but which couldn't be fixed with a good, healthy rewrite or two. I expect people who read very little or have no critical judgement will love it.