The Truth About These Strange Times Synopsis
Saul Dawson-Smith can memorise the sequence of a shuffled deck of cards in under a minute; he can recite pi to a thousand decimal places and he remembers every conversation he’s ever had. He is 10 years old. Howard McNamee is 28: lonely, overweight and poorly-educated. He lives in the north of England, far from the scene of his difficult Glasgow childhood, in the home he shared with his mother before she died. Struggling to pay his rent with a succession of menial jobs, Howard comes home each day and talks to the late Mrs McNamee, as he sits in front of the wardrobe that still contains her clothes. Through a series of unexpected events, these two solitary people find themselves forming an unlikely friendship, as Howard is taken under the wing of Saul’s parents, thrust into a life in London (where he makes new friends, tries to navigate a bewildering new city, and accidentally acquires a Russian internet fiancee) and Saul prepares himself for the World Memory Championships – the event he has been training for his whole life.
But as the pressure mounts on the little boy, and his well-meaning but single-minded parents grow increasingly less able to see beyond their own ambitions for their son, Howard realises he must act to save his small friend from a life of soul-destroying competitions and unbearable expectation. The decision he reaches turns all of their lives upside-down. (Audible)
I am left with very mixed feelings about this book. The title ‘The Truth About These Strange Times‘ and the synopsis sounded like just the right mix of quirky and offbeat subject matter to pique my interest. I ask myself however, why is it that on multiple occasions while listening to this audio book did I consider not continuing? Note this is extremely unlike me – if I start something, I finish it.
It was not because of the narration. Colin Moody’s reading of this novel was absolutely first rate, and probably what kept me listening until the end. His character differentiation and timing seemed effortless. I will be seeking out more narration by Colin Moody on this basis.
It was not because of Adam Foulds prose. He developed his characters quite well and created some evocative moments.
The only thing I can cite as the reason I did not feel a compelling connection with The Truth About These Strange Times, is the fact that Adam Foulds’ protagonist just downright annoyed me at times.
If Howard had had to describe Husain he would have got stuck on the fact that he bore a weird but compelling resemblance to Howard’s waist-high fridge. The likeness was so strong that Howard had tried on one night of too many lonely beers, to draw Husain’s face on its door with a felt-tip. Husain’s face however turned out to be hard to draw, being just a plain brown rectangle with heavy eyebrows as the only distinguishing characteristics. Howard’s drawing bore no resemblance to the man and although he had tried to rub it off immediately, there was still a greasy blue ink stain on Howard’s fridge which he somewhow held Husain responsible for, adding to his dislike.
Although it was presumably Foulds’ intention that the audience feel sympathy for the hapless character, Howard McNamee was just that little bit too ignorant for my tastes. There were also a few dark moments that I found unsettling.
I think I understand what Adam Foulds was trying to achieve in his debut novel The Truth About These Strange Times but I think he just did not pull it off (contrary to the opinion of literary award judges). His most recent novel, The Quickening Maze has received favourable reviews and was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, so I will be giving Foulds’ work another chance in the future.
BOOK RATING: The Story 2.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3.5 / 5
Genre: Drama, Humour, Action-Adventure, Mystery, Audio
Author Information: Born 1974, Adam Foulds is a British novelist and poet. In 2008 he won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.
Other titles by Adam Foulds: The Quickening Maze