The Hopkins Conundrum

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Sep 2017

Member Reviews

A entwined narrative that, for me, read more like an exercise for the writer (and he is a good one) than an engaging read.
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I wanted to like this book, but it really just didn't catch my interest. The three different plot lines, Hopkin's poetry, the Da Vinci Code-esque shenanigans, and the shipwreck story, jumped around too much and took some getting used too. The plot was interesting, but seemed a bit far fetched, especially the modern story line. The writing was good and there were some humorous moments.
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Not A Conundrum, A Hat Trick

Three in one - you get a very sympathetic biography of the rather "difficult" poet Hopkins, a tragic shipwreck tale, and a cheerful bright romantic comedy that includes a brutal send up of the Dan Brown/ DaVinci phenomenon. (As a bonus there are also a lot of sly observations about the Welsh setting, including a rousing defense of Welsh bardic poetry, and a rural Welshman who ends up the wisest of them all.)

This is a sneaky book because while there are three threads separated in time and theme and style , (and even told in alternating chapters), the three threads twist around each other and subtly compete for the reader's attention. We start with the tale of recently divorced Tim and his half-hearted attempt to make a go of a practically abandoned Welsh countryside pub. Tim and his former wife broke up, ostensibly, over things like her mindless obsession with a book exactly like "The DaVinci Code". At the same time we join a group of nuns boarding a ship to America that we know is doomed to wreck and take them with it. We also open our tale of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his fraught monastic life. Where will this go?, which tale will take the lead?, how much of the nun's piety and Hopkins' declamations about poetry will I be able to stand?

Well, this is where the author plays about. Tim's scheme to build a DaVinci Code mystery around his pub and Manleys' days in the same Welsh Valley adds the first round of energy and laugh out loud humor. But then the shipwreck tale becomes rather gripping. Then the Hopkins tale grabs the reader as Gerard becomes a more interesting and sympathetic character than merely a writer of underappeciated and sometimes incoherent poetry. Romance enters Tim's picture and the rom-com seems to be winning, except the shipwreck starts to come to a head, but for the fact that Hopkins becomes even more interesting. And so it goes.

By the end there's been some romantic farce with a bright and charming heroine and a rueful Tim who has ended up being schooled in the ways of women and life. The tragic shipwreck has been even more melancholy  and tragic than expected. And somehow Hopkins has ended up the lovely and complex and sympathetic center of this surprising book. 

As I said, a stunning, entertaining, very funny, very touching, and always surprising hat trick. A nice find.

(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
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Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better, if I had ever read any, or was even familiar with, any of Hopkins' works. Yet, having not read any Hemingway at the time, I was still able to understand the satire of the 1993 book, I Killed Hemingway by William McCranor Henderson. The frequent changes in setting, time period, and voice, was too distracting, however purposeful a style choice.
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I liked this novel by Simon Edge. Switching between the various plots took some getting used to, especially as the Hopkins story jumps forward ten years at one point, but each individual story helps flesh out details in the other stories. Edge does a nice job of furthering poetry appreciation, and it was humorous.
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I'm so grateful this book had three story lines. Oddly, the two based on real events I found more interesting than the barkeep. If it was only about the barkeep it would have gotten a lower star count. There were times when I found him so annoying. But before I could properly feel strongly against him, we're with someone else and I'm back to being entertained.
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