I’ve just read Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller. It won the CWA John Creasey Dagger for best debut novel this year and it was a worthy winner. Sheldon Horowitz, elderly watch-repairer and Korean veteran, suffering from dementia, is living in Oslo with his grandaughter when he witnesses the murder of a young woman and flees the scene with her young son. Like all the best crime novel it is about far more than a crime: it’s about loss and grief and redemption. I thought it was excellent, though I did feel it ended a little bit abruptly. But then, endings are very, very difficult to do well. By that I don’t mean the climax of the story, but those last few lines that ideally will linger in the imagination of the reader. If the first lines matter because they must hook your reader and draw her in, the last lines should make her want to read the writer’s next novel.
I’ve often struggled with how to end a novel. Short stories tend to be easier in that respect, perhaps because they tend to be all of a piece, just one idea, and the last line can be the pay-off. I like Truffaut’s idea that his films should end on a rising note and the last moments should say ‘happy.’ it is hard to write about endings without giving too much away, but this is how Vasily Grossman concludes Life and Fate. A wounded soldier has returned to his wife and daughter and walks with his wife in the still snow-bound forest. It’s April:
‘It was still cold and dark, but soon the doors and shutters would be flung open. Soon the house would be filled with the tears and laughter of children, with the hurried steps of a loved woman, and the measured gait of the master of the house.
‘They stood there, holding their bags, in silence.’
I don’t usually read a Sunday paper, but yesterday a friend who was here for the week-end bought The Observer. There was a superb article by journalist Carole Cadwalladr who spent a week working undercover for Amazon at their Swansea warehouse. It made sobering reading. Long hours, poor pay, employment rights avoided by hiring through agencies, workers walking up to fifteen hours per shift. BBC Panorama recently showed a programme filmed undercover, which showed the same thing. What century are we living in? To add insult to injury The Observer claims that Amazon paid £2.4 million in corporate tax in 2012 and got back £2.5 million in grants.
There’s no two ways about, I have got to start buying less from Amazon.It’s really mostly books. I don’t really like buying electronic goods from them. My laptop came from John Lewis (where I was able to talk to a nice young man about which model was most suited to my needs) and my printer came from Printerland.
As for books, well, there are always bookshops (though not for much long if Amazon have their way). Buying on-line is harder – at least, not really much harder, but more expensive. To test this out, I looked up the recent winner of the CWA gold dagger, Dead Lions by Mick Heron, on Amazon where it costs £12.72 for a hardback and on Abebooks where it was £13.83, postage included for both. That’s not actually a huge difference. The winner of the Creasey dagger for the best first novel, Derek.B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, was £3.85 on Amazon and £5.48 on Abebooks (in fact I’d already bought that at Waterstones). Really should one be paying much less than a fiver for a new book, something that it has probably taken someone at least a year to write?
My new year’s resolution will be to buy fewer books from Amazon and more from other sources. Actual books, that is, ebooks are another, more difficult matter, but at least no-one has to pack them up and post them.