Yet another reader’s comment, this time from Catalonia.

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A Catalan reader, Susana Aballanet, who enjoys an extraordinary command of English, had this to say about SNUG (20/04/2014, via email):

If I had to define your novel in a few adjectives, I would say SNUG is intense, catchy, engaged and stylistically risky and ambitious. Let me explain. Intense: the plot gradually unfolds an exceptional but believable situation in which the characters are put on the ropes. Catchy: throughout its 441 pages, there isn’t a dull moment, any part the reader could do without, and you always keep the reader’s attention. Engaged: racism and especially the British (and the first world, by extension) disregard of the effects of colonialism, with its still pervading prejudices, drive the novel and you make your point through the protest tone the novel adopts. Stylistically risky and ambitious: you made a bold bet by experimenting with the narrative voice. The multiplicity of narrators provides a detached point of view, and it is a good way to approach the complexity of the issues of racism and colonialism you deal with, without being pretentious.

 

Nevertheless, as I mentioned, I think it is a very risky, although smart, strategy. What I mean is that the multiplicity of narrators implies a very well defined and unique voice of each of the narrators. Maybe the average reader won’t notice, but a picky and close-up reader feels a certain homogeneity in the narrators. It’s true that when it’s Dr. Whitebone’s turn to narrate the story, he uses derogatory terms to refer to the blacks, the Jewish policeman, and the arabic neighbour; but his racism isn’t distilled through any other linguistic element, so if it weren’t for his “insults”, it wouldn’t be so clear that it was him who was talking. With the other narrators, the feeling is similar, you can’t really distinguish the characters’ personalities through their narrative voice. It’s through their acts that their character is shaped, and through their dialogues. In other words, although all the characters’ personalities are well differentiated, the narrative voices of those who narrate aren’t linguistically as much differentiated. I must say, though, that your use of language is excellent. I really liked the richness of vocabulary and the evocative images you use in your descriptions and narration of events. Of course, English not being my mother tongue, I’m not the most entitled to judge all that, but I must confess that in many occasions I had to look up in the dictionary (which either shows how large your vocabulary range is, or it shows how poor mine is). It also stunned me the way you create long elaborate sentences, their syntax being impecable. English being a language of rather short sentences, usually avoiding too many embedded clauses, you seem to go beyond this tendency and expand English syntax’s boundaries. I wonder if that isn’t an influence of your contact with Catalan and Spanish, which you’ve been able to skillfully incorporate to English. Anyway, I enjoyed the book in terms of language style.

 

Regarding the protest and criticism the book embodies, it is undeniably effective on the reader. Many of us are aware of how awful colonialism was, especially in Africa, but after the years (and with the self-imposed politically correct discourse we have all adopted) we have become sort of numb to the consequences of such period in history. So your novel is very effective in a way that the reader realizes that not only the people in Coldwater Bay are snug in their holiday houses, but the reader himself is snug in his 21st century oblivious consciousness of what happened throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. So if what you intended is to raise awareness on the issue, I believe you’ve made your point and you’ve succeeded in your plan. The only remark I might dare to make on this matter is that, although throughout the novel the protest is subtle and coveyed through the characters and the plot, there is a moment of weakness towards the end when I could see too much of the author making his claims. I’m referring to the last issue of the Coldwater Bay newspaper, where there is a too explicit account of the history and effects of colonialism and it is not very believable that the african leader who writes it makes such a speech, because to me it sounds too much as something a concerned and ashamed (of his ancestors, of course) white would say. It is just a problem of verisimilitude, for it somehow suggests an attempt of the author to convey a certain ideology, which diminishes the distancing from the issue you had achieved so far. Of course, it is just a short passage, so I guess that it isn’t a big deal after all (maybe just me overinterpreting things).

 

Finally, I would like to praise the way you end up the novel. I think that after all what you unfold throughout the 400 pages, it is very hard not to leave loose ends, and in your case I found everything very well wrapped up. I also liked the way you shaped Lucy’s and the boy’s evolution. It fits well the personalities you built up in their childhood, for Lucy wasn’t the tormented sort of person, rather a quite self-centered straight-forward one, who – as it happens – wouldn’t let those events tear her up. On the contrary, the boy always showed a sensitivity and innocence – although not as naive as his mate – that clearly leads him to self-destruction after what happened in Coldwater Bay (and especially with his inevitable feeling of guilt for having somehow provoked the massacre). All in all, I have to say that it’s been a pleasure, and I hope you don’t take seriously any of what I’ve said above, for I’m just an amateur critic, a fine reader whose opinion only matters as long as it creates a healthy literary debate, which I wish we could have.

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