Book review: There Must Be Some Mistake

Friday, October 3, 2014 Permalink

I recently wrote about ‘our’ desire to label everything. I like to think I’m not too label-conscious but realise that’s not always the case, particularly when it comes to books. I like crime fiction, thrillers, suspense. I don’t mind ‘literature’ – you know… the generic kind. But… I like to know beforehand what I’m reading. I like to know what to expect. Perhaps it’s the control freak in me needing to know where I’m going. Is it a mystery / thriller? Should I be prepared for some twists and turns? Or is it ‘literature’ so I can expect to be entertained with sensible sentences and a thought-provoking plot.

Which is a long-winded way of saying this predisposition is why I struggled with much of Frederick Bathleme’s latest novel, There Must Be Some Mistake. In fact I rarely add status updates to Goodreads, but wrote this.

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That’s not to say I didn’t eventually enjoy the book, rather that… it really went nowhere in particular and offered me little. In fact it’s reminiscent of Paulo Coelho’s Adultery – a book I read recently which touches on loneliness, depression and a mid life crisis of sorts.

The style of writing (rather than the prose) also reminds me of Coelho’s recent navel-gazing… a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing and contemplation.

Wallace Webster was unexpectedly made redundant after 30 years with a graphic design company. He tells us he was bewildered and angry about this, but… it really has little to do with his story.

cover47407-mediumAfter the breakdown of his second marriage Wallace kept the couple’s condo in Kemah (Texas) and is whittling away his days (contemplating life and pfaffing about on the internet) there when we meet him.

Life in a condo complex* seems both insular and independent. The neighbours seemingly keep to themselves, but know most of what each other is up to. The ‘complex’ itself appears tightly controlled by the management committee.

Which is why a raft of incidents baffle and ‘unnerve’ residents.

Firstly there’s a car accident during which Wallace’s neighbour dies. Then a resident is attacked, bound and (inexplicably) covered in Yves Klein blue paint. Finally there’s a naked woman found in someone’s driveway.

Wallace is intrigued by this spate of events and – although not actually investigating – finds himself in a slew of discussions about them. More incidents follow and again Wallace seems to be the one others approach to ease their guilt, share their theories or just as an information source. ‘Is it just really bad luck, or is there something more sinister at play?’ the residents wonder.

Wallace (who I ‘think’ is in his mid-late 50s) is surrounded by women. There’s Jilly, a former colleague and someone he thinks he could spend his life with… although he doesn’t act on this as he’d prefer not to ruin the friendship. There’s his daughter Morgan who’s away studying but a regular visitor; his ex is back on the scene (having had a  fling with Jilly’s ex); and then there’s the victim of the blue paint-related house invasion, Chantal with whom Wallace has an affair. Of sorts.

The characters were complex but not necessarily well-developed. They were all quirky and I struggled to find them believable. Plus most annoyed the crap out of me.

If we’re meant to take the novel on more than face value then I guess it’s a study of a microcosm of society through the incestuous and eccentric community of Kemah.

Again… I’m torn about this novel. It’s apparently Bathleme’s 15th which means he has stamina and offers consistent quality. It’s certainly well-written, and I didn’t put the novel down, which I do if I’m not enjoying something – but I kept waiting for something’. I’m not sure what.

There Must Be Some Mistake  by Frederick Bathelme, published by Little Brown and Company (Hachette Group) is due for release on 7 October 2014.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 

* As an aside – I assume the ‘complex’ (US-style)  is a bit like a community rather than some small patch of land with shared facilities etc.