First Novel by Nicholas Royle (Vintage)

by Patrick O'Connor

 

THE author picks an unusual protagonist in this clever, intriguing story – a creative writing lecturer at a Manchester university.

The added twist is that Royle also teaches the subject at Manchester Metropolitan University so the reader is constantly pondering over what is real and what is fantasy.

The central character, Paul Kinder, only has one book to his credit (and that was a long time ago), although this is Royle's seventh.

Kinder is a bit of a puzzle, living alone, with a trio of mannequins in his bedroom, and an obsession for obscure things such as the flight paths of planes making their final approach to Manchester airport and photographs of famous novelists' workplaces.

Apart from that, initially everything seems normal as he tasks himself with trying to make his students better writers.

But two things change the tone of the book. First of all, Kinder meets with a rather unbalanced neighbour and at the same time the reader is introduced to a parallel narrative, written by one of his students, about a character called Raymond Cross, who is in the RAF and stationed in Zanzibar.

As we begin to learn about Kinder's past and Cross' tale unfolds, the book takes a much darker turn.

The big question is – what links the two stories? Royle makes us wait for the answer, dropping hints and clues here and there but never the full reveal until very late on.