‘Oz’ by Bobbie Darbyshire, published by Cinnamon Press, 2014

When I read the sample of this, it was the best sample I’d read on my Kindle. Of anything. Ever. And I read a lot of samples. So I actually bought a brand new copy of the book (something I seldom do – impoverished writer labouring in garret, yada yada). And now that I have finished the whole thing I can truthfully say that it is the best book I have read this year. Or am likely to read. It is as rich and full of interesting material as is a fruit cake: a beautiful piece of work.

Why is it so good? Now we have to tiptoe round the spoilers. Here goes. It slips between three time periods and three protagonists with consummate ease: the reader is never left behind.

All the main characters are beautifully rounded, even the ones we meet only fleetingly are shown to us economically and vibrantly.

The Matilda character is one of the Great Child Monsters of modern, or indeed any, fiction.

I have read Darbyshire dealing with the Seventies before (in Truth Games) and she really brings that period alive. Here she does the same for the recent and slightly-less-recent past as well. But as the root of the story is 1978 it is vital that should be vivid. And it is. I was there and I can tell you that for a fact.

But the best thing about ‘Oz’ is the way it shows the extraordinary in ordinary lives. If you were sitting down to write the story of an ordinary bloke (Mark), and you threw a single ‘whatif?’ in there you might expect some interesting ripples. And there is only one ‘whatif?’ but the ripples from it meet the ripples from Mark’s significant others and his later life and nothing that follows is what you might expect. I pride myself on being able to second guess the directions plots will take as they come towards me: I was wrong every single time with Oz. And yet the new direction was absolutely right, every time. And the ending was completely satisfying. When could you last say that about a novel, when you’d just read the last page? Cracking read. Treat yourself.

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