Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review #29: After Battersea Park by Jonathan Bennett

An extremely funny, well-wrought and highly readable first novel from a Canadian author originally from 'down under'.

Jonathan Bennett’s first novel covers a lot of ground in fewer than two hundred pages. While most of the action takes place in Sydney, Australia, and Toronto, this whirlwind tour of long-separated twins also lands in Hawaii, London, Scotland, Madrid and Mallorca.

Curt, an Australian jazz musician, and William, a Canadian visual artist, were four-year-old twins driven in different directions when their drug-addict father separated from their mother. She soon found she could not feed the children and had to give them up. At age twenty-seven, they learn of each other’s existence and begin a journey that draws them together from different ends of the world.

Bennett has a deft, suggestive touch: “Curt’s aunt, Jilly, found her slumped in her chair. Not late for tennis but dead.” He also has a flair for writing subtle erotic scenes, as in this picnic enjoyed by William and his much older lover: “Spring slid into summer that quiet afternoon, in full view of the city.”

The high points of After Battersea Park are the well-wrought scenes that sparkle with wry humor and wit. He has the ability to place the reader right on the spot: with a crowd of Mallorcans trying to extract a precious cigarette lighter from a storm-water drain (Curt ends by lighting a cigarette and draws a fine round of applause); or hiding in a bedroom closet with William while a couple whose house he has secretly entered make love not ten feet away.

A neatly constructed plot, engaging three-dimensional characters and a touch of devil-may-care impudence make this novel a delight to read.

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