The Unholy Trinity
Reviewed by Donovan’s Literary Services,
Donovan, Sr, Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
The Dove is Dead tackles a late-in-life crisis experienced by two men, Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton, who are in their seventies and on the cusp of the greatest change in their lives. These contrast with the reflections of younger Amy, who also is on the cusp of very different realizations.
Readers who choose this concluding book in The Unholy Trinity, which presents the social history of the working and lower middle class in Britain, might think themselves at a disadvantage for not reading the book’s predecessors. But one of the pleasures in this title is that one can enter it without prior knowledge and still receive a rich foray into the lives and shifting perspectives of three generations of a close family.
The story opens from the perspective of a college girl Amy Shackleton: “You can be woke and still be sensible,” I’d say. “It’s all about being alive to the wrongs of the past, which isn’t everything in history.” And then I’d add as a joke, “But that includes everything that’s happened in the West since the industrial revolution started.” No, nobody ever laughed. I’ve never wanted to rebel against my upbringing in a big way though. It had been good. More than anything, I’d hate to be seen as a poor little rich girl, when I know that what I should feel is both privileged and grateful.”
This contemporary observation dovetails nicely with the prior novels, presenting a recap that easily educates newcomers with a quick outline of characters and history. It opens the story of an family that experiences turbulence, love, and changing social conditions that test their values and perspectives.
As scenes evolve in movie-like staccato play, readers receive thought-provoking insights into family relationships and ideals that teeter on the cusp of social and psychological evolution: “…this was the time of the Black Lives Matter campaign, which I strongly felt that the whole of Britain should take to heart. It was one of the things I disagreed with Dad on, who saw it as just one initiative among many that had taken place during his life.”
Although British politics are part of the discussions that evolve between adults and the next generation, there is no requirement that readers be familiar with or understand the nuances or history of any of these events. The smooth reflections incorporate these facets as needed to create a thoroughly engaging, understandable milieu.
Readers who enjoy stories of generational attitudes, social change, and how relationships are tested and shift under the quicksand of political and social struggle will particularly appreciate John Uttley’s attention to creating dialogues that clarify and change hearts and minds: “In the outside world, there was a terrible murder of a young woman walking home in London. I was so angry about it, telling Dad that all men were rapists at heart. I was surprised that he didn’t totally disagree. “I don’t think you can ever change all men for good, however much you educate them. We try to make it better, but the devil will always be in the mix.” That wasn’t an acceptable answer to me.”
Through solidly-constructed, believable protagonists are tempered by the first-person opinions and observations of Amy, readers gain insights into both the later years of thinking processes that are tempered by time and experience and the ideals and illusions of youth.
As faith, community, life, and death touch Amy’s world, readers are drawn to the interactions between individuals who embrace different facets of change in disparate manners, growing to appreciate their loved ones all the more for the impermanence of life itself: “I looked at Mum and Dad and realised how much they meant to me. They wouldn’t be with me forever.”
The result may be a fitting end for prior readers of The Unholy Trinity, but will prove an exceptional beginning for new readers dropped into this pursuit of meaning and purpose from life, politics, relationships, and growing older.
Libraries interested in fiction that embraces a powerful sense of place, faith, and family will find The Dove is Dead a thought-provoking contrast between generations as British society shifts. Its insights about truth, identity, hope, and family legacy will linger in the mind long after the story’s conclusion.
Where’s Sailor Jack?
Review by Ray Connolly, Journalist, Playwright, Novelist and the foremost commentator on the sixties.
Nothing changed the social complexion of Britain quite as effectively as the 1944 Education Act. At a stroke of government, bright working class children were given a chance for further education that their parents could only have dreamed about.
Bob and Richard were two of those children. Grammar school boys from Lancashire, and friends throughout everything since, their education and abilities have led them up the success ladder in business and industry. Now in their sixties, they should, you might think, be enjoying the fruits of their life’s work. Well off, by most people’s standards, in some ways they are. But life isn’t ever plain sailing. As always, sex, love, pride, ambition and, not least, the past, ally to complicate things.
And in this thoroughly enjoyable first novel by John Uttley, himself a Lancashire grammar school boy of that period, we dive into the complexities of two families, each with its own problems as the clock on Bob’s and Richard’s mortality continues to tick. It could be the story of many of us of that so luckily blessed generation.
‘A High Fidelity for the original baby boomers’
I worked with John Uttley as a developmental editor on this novel, but please don’t think me partisan. Anyone who has read my work as a literary critic will know that I’m a straight shooter when it comes to good and bad writing. Where’s Sailor Jack? is a pleasure to read, and a great debut from a meticulous writer. I love this book simply as a reader, and I’m very happy to see it in print.
Where’s Sailor Jack? is by turns romantic, poignant, and extremely funny, exactly what I want from a family saga. Like its hero, Bob Swarbrick, this novel is charming, charismatic and complex, and reminds us that not all contemporary fiction has to mirror Hollywood, with metrosexual twenty-somethings charging about solving impossible problems. Where’s Sailor Jack? is measured and thoughtful, with a strong plot, believable characters, and an intelligent moral centre. I’m wary of labelling, and ‘boomer lit’ is a bit of a catchall these days, but if like me you won’t see fifty again then you will really relate to this novel. Uttley cannily keeps three generations in play, but his core characters are nearer the end than the beginning and thus look back as much as they look forward, still trying to figure it all out. One of the many questions the story asks (and answers) is will there be too much baggage when Bob’s ship comes in?
Bob is an engineer. He’s a working class Northerner made good, and his origins place him always slightly outside the professional class to which he now belongs. He was inspired by the cultural revolution of the late-fifties and early-sixties, and although he did well out of Thatcherism, his roots have left him with a rebellious scepticism in which corporate greed and leftwing intellectualism are held in roughly equal contempt. Since the failure of his first marriage he has been unable to sustain a serious personal relationship, and still carries a torch for his ex-wife, Jane (a feminist academic who steals every scene in which she appears). His best friend, Richard, is an investment banker with enough doubts about his profession to return a bonus. He now regrets his decision not to enter the church as a young man, although his wife is far from convinced that Christianity holds all the answers.
Now nearing retirement, Bob and Richard are working together for one last time on the flotation of a clean energy start-up company. Against this backdrop, Bob is offered two chances for love, one new, one old, while Richard’s apparently idyllic marriage is sorely tested. And all the while, in many different ways, major and minor characters search for some sort of meaning to their lives, from faith to politics to love, all of them in one way or another trying to answer the question the book’s title asks, ‘Where’s Sailor Jack?’ (Bob’s late father): Where do we go when we die?
There’s an honesty about the dilemmas and challenges these characters face, with a real insight into human relationships that brings an emotional depth unusual in modern mainstream fiction. What’s also unusual is that female characters are as strong and well realised as the men, while the philosophy of the narrative never gets in the way of a cracking story. The novel is never preachy, allowing different world views and inviting readers to decide their own answer to the book’s question. Either way, there is a fundamentally uplifting message, whether taken as Christian or simply Humanist and Existential.
John Uttley’s debut novel reminded me at once of reading Graham Greene on faith and Graham Swift on aging, with the sexual honesty of John Updike, the range of a John Irving family saga, and the quirky British humour of Nick Hornby – in fact, in many ways, Where’s Sailor Jack? is a High Fidelity for the original baby boomers. And the subplot about the flotation is a fascinating insight into investment banking by an author who knows that world very well. So forget about Christian Grey and find out how the real business millionaires live, with all the same doubts, fears, highs and lows as the rest of us. An utterly delightful book.
OTHER BOOK REVIEWS:
Apr. 18, 2015 by Janet Holmes
People of the post- war generation from the northwest will find much to relate to in this novel. It’s a good read.
May. 03, 2015 by Susan Heyward
Where’s Sailor Jack is by turn, romantic, humerous, religious and business driven, with a large helping of normal family trials and tribulations. I enjoyed meeting the characters and getting involved in their storylines and the descriptive portraits of the The Fylde and Lancashire was a treat to read as it is my homeground too. The central characters are very believable and I felt both sorry for and cross with Bob for his errors of judgement in life and could identify with Jane, a strong woman with a rather selfish personality when it comes to relationships! Helen’s attempts at extra marital romps were very funny as were reasons for failure, I enjoyed all the characters, both human and animal who entered and left the story, and shed tears when the exits were permanent.
John Uttley is an expressive writer and I hope there will be more to read from him.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 July 2020
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 October 2015
Where’s Sailor Jack? By John Uttley follows the lives of Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton in a family heritage preservation style book written by Bob’s son. Bob and Richard grew up in the post-WWII era as part of the generations of working-class youths who found wealth and stability in the Labour environment they grew up in. With class as the book’s undertones, Bob and Richard also deal with infidelity, divorce, raising children, finding themselves in the modern era and most importantly for them, religion. This book is an insight into the life of people in their 50s through to their 70s, dealing with new experiences and attempting to let go of their past. Bob and Richard’s similar northern background and deeply religious views allow them to aid each other through this turbulent and reflective part of their lives.
I’ll admit, the only reason I read this book is because the sequel, No Precedent, is a book I have luckily been given to red by NetGalley, so it was necessary, otherwise I’m unsure I’d choose a book like this to read. If I had to describe this book it would be if Normal People was written about northerners in their 60s as opposed to Irish students going to university. The book is extraordinarily simple, with very little happening; there is no dramatic event that shapes the story and there is no real end goal that drives the story forward. Upon reading up on the author Uttley’s life, he seems to have reflected the main characters, Bob’s, life to his, making the experiences fascinating.
One weakness I found with this book was that it was evident that the author was grappling between presenting a mundane life whilst also feeling the need to add excitement and interest to the lives of the characters. A business deal is being agreed upon with Bob, Richard, and Wendy at the beginning of the novel, which spans the first 40%. While it was needed in some aspect to start the book off and present the protagonists, as well as demonstrating to the readers the class dynamic, it was like reading a financial magazine and didn’t show much of the characters. While it did pick up after this, the only way Uttley managed to add anything remotely interesting to this story was by throwing in endless amounts of infidelity scandals in virtually every main relationship in the novel (and there was a lot of characters, meaning a lot of infidelity). About 55% into the book I described it to my partner as “a bunch of Christians bragging about how in touch they are with their faith whilst also having their fifth affair of the year”. It was exhausting.
To add to this, it only made me like the characters less when they just accepted that their partners were cheating and seemed to let said partners walk all over them. Richard seemingly accepts his partners infidelity, questioning whether this is healthy, whilst then casually cheating on her with his first girlfriend. Characters like Jane, Bob’s first wife, is unquestioningly unlikeable because of her continuous mistreatment of men in her life. Her inability to prioritise anyone but herself is infuriating and ultimately made me resent Jane for cheating and Bob for being a carpet for her to walk over.
This dynamic is only exacerbated when paired with Bob and Richard’s deep religious values, believing that they are good people and will end up in heaven because of their ability to recite scripture and attend Sunday church. The casualness of the infidelity in the novel (especially considering it’s occasionally revenge driven) is only as remarkable as it is when contrasted to Bob and Richard’s on-going religious conversations about one’s self and the afterlife. By the end of the book my brain ached and throbbed more from keeping up with characters and scandals than it did from questions of divinity and cosmology. (I’ve managed to count 7 infidelity scenes and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, all from the main characters).
Another weakness is the sheer amount of characters in the novel, especially towards the end when grandchildren as well as great nephews and nieces are being mentioned. Because of all the cheating, their family trees are often more akin to a winding hedge maze, so trying to remember every character, let alone form a connection to them, is too confusing and only takes away time from the two protagonists. Characters floating in and out the novel seem pointless at times, especially when their sole purpose is to cheat or remind the reader of their previous cheating. Class conflicts and infidelity dominate the book throughout, and I don’t see how that works to create a particularly interesting or likable book.
Finally, the ending felt rushed, as if the author was cut for time and needed to ensure that every single character mentioned throughout the book had their ending explained. This is obviously because the book is a heritage preservation style book. While I think I understand the sentiment, with Utterly holding these characters close to him and feeling that he needed them to have a well-rounded ending, it merely felt like the author was trying to remind himself who the charactbers were and figuring out how to end their stories. The last 7% was essentially an update on the families, which didn’t feel at all real or natural.
One major strength I will praise is the fact that this book is clearly a personal attempt from the author to give a voice to those who might be dismissed in today’s post-modern society. The term ‘straight while male’ has recently been thrown around by people who oppose the oppressive system they find themselves in. People that are perhaps limited in job or relationship markets and find their intersectionality a weakness in many circles of life. However, Uttley’s book gives a microphone to that section of society so we can hear their perspectives. Even me, quick to judge that generation based off their ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘backwards’ way of thinking had to rethink my prejudices and realise that not all those that fit into the ‘straight white male’ category are necessarily conservative, Brexiters, fearful of the immigrants, gays and single-mothers in our society. Uttley, in his mid seventies, shows himself through his characters to be well-equipped to the deal with changes in society, despite Bob being unsure of his abilities in doing-so. If anything, this book is refreshing as it presents two engineers, aware of their damage to the environment because of their careers; aware that they were the few working class who managed to go up the social ladder; aware of modern politics and needing to ‘move with the times’; aware that religion isn’t going to be the path for everyone. Despite the rest of my opinions on the book, I give full praise to Uttley for planting a seed of thought in me that perhaps wouldn’t have grown in me so early on in my life. I hope to find this in his next novel, No Precedent.
Additionally, the writing style is actually quite good, especially when contrasted to the plot. His writing has a way of making you truly understand the characters whilst not saying much. Despite not liking most of the cast, I did feel like I understood the protagonists.
Overall, I don’t think this book contributed much to society or literature, other than its unique perspective that was seemingly lost in fiction. For me, the book was too confusing because of the abundance of characters, as well as having no real purpose or drive. To carry on from this, the infidelity scandals and lack of a moral conscience among some of the characters didn’t make them likeable and didn’t make for an enjoyable time reading it.
LOVEREADING VIEW ON NO PRECEDENT
This sequel to John Uttley’s family drama Where’s Sailor Jack? sees Bob, now past his “three score and ten”, dealing with era-defining external changes (Brexit, changes in the Labour Party, Donald Trump’s presidency) alongside day-to-day life, with his new love Wendy also given her own narrative.
Having survived a divorce and a heart attack, and found himself new partner, Bob has also bought himself a grave plot “near enough to the gate for me to look for an escape if I’m sent to the wrong place,” he remarks with typically wry humour. Lively new characters are also introduced in this sequel, courtesy of teacher Lucy Fishwick, reputedly “a man-eater of all ages and sizes”, and her daughter Maddie, who’s often the object of male characters’ lascivious gazes.
Reflective, nostalgic, and suffused in the author’s roots, No Precedent will appeal to those interested in personal takes on present-day political shifts. Indeed, it often reads as if lines between characters’ views and those of the author have been blurred. Tony Blair, Ed Miliband, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Teresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Bercow and Keir Starmer – and others – are discussed, and we’re also offered a reason for the collapse of Labour’s red wall in the 2019 general election: “I suppose they took the view that if you can’t beat the bastards then you might as well join them, if only for a while.” With loss, immortality (and the fates of Bolton and Blackpool football clubs) covered alongside politics, the overall reading experience is akin to overhearing a wry-minded, well-meaning stranger, then getting to know them over the course of an evening.
Mid West Book Review
Hazel Butterfield – Women’s Radio
A Bittersweet tale of modern day life, the north / south divide, politics, religion and relationships. Unique in its format, educational in its subject matter and thoroughly entertaining with its raw pragmatism and tongue and cheek nature. Clued up and yet sympathetic regarding the interchangeability of life. The dichotomy of the old world and emerging norms.
It explains Brexit so succinctly, more than our politicians and news outlets have. I actually feeling quite schooled on politics now, John Uttley has such a broad knowledge of varying sides of a complicated fence.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 9 July 2020
I loved Where’s Sailor Jack? so I was excited to read the next edition in the lives of Bob and Richard! I wasn’t disappointed. John Uttley deftly nods to our current mind-bending situation, living through history during a global pandemic that has brought the world to a pause, or ‘apocalypse’ as it’s referred to in the novel. This is a family saga but it’s about relationships, expectations, the collision of past and present, it’s about learning to adapt to – or reject – change.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 30 June 2020
An other excellent thought provoking journey through the years with Bob and Richard and their families. Shaped by their early life experiences in post war Lancashire, despite being liberal-minded and still heavily influenced by the sixties counter-culture, they struggle at times to adapt to the fast changing world that often feels alien and challenges many of their long held beliefs. It is a book that will have a resonance with most readers of a similar age to Bob and Richard and will provide an insight for those who are much younger, as to what they can expect as they head towards their three score years and ten.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 12 August 2020
What a splendid book. John Uttley has presented a must-read book that is thought-provoking, hilarious, current and nostalgic. His unique narrative style will ensure that this book is a favourite read for many.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 3 July 2020
I am going to admit that I was a little nervous about reviewing this book as I knew that religion and politics featured. I am not a great follower of politics and prefer keeping my opinions to myself on these matter, the same goes for religion however I need not have worried as although they feature they actually enhance the story and I did find myself nodding along with some of the very valid points that the author raised.
This book was far, far more than politics and religion, this is very much a heartwarming family read. Bob, starts the narration as we meet in St Chad’s graveyard. He sets the scene of his much loved family both past and present and I immediately warmed to the character and felt very much a part of the family. Meeting with his old friend, Paul, they have spent their lives very much at odds with each other and have a love hate relationship.
The viewpoint then switches to his wife, Wendy. She is much younger then Bob and has her own past. Both Wendy and Bob have been married before and now with Bob in his later years they have a young family together to contend with. Bob also has his older children to keep involved with.
This story is very much about a coming together of the extended families for periods of celebrations in their lives. Each Chrustmas and Easter they meet and it’s never without it’s dramas and fallout.
We then add Lucy to the mix. Lucy meets Paul and Bob in the local pub and very much becomes a part of their lives along with her wayward daughter Maddie. Their family story is far from smooth and this certainly brings up plenty of conflict and talking points within the story.
This book is set around the Brext period and it’s interesting to hear each of the characters viewpoints on the ongoing situation. There is a very apt extract that I would now like to share.
“What, with the possibility of Trump and Brexit?” Wendy replied. “I doubt it I’ve a horrible feeling it starts here.”
“And with climate change, not that Britain can do much about it, I’m pretty sure we will meet a very wet end. “ I said. “Or there will be a plague that just kills off humans.”
There were sections in this book that made me laugh and others that made me cry. I’m not sure I will be able to forgive the author for the heartbreaking ending. I read the final chapters through a mist of tears and I did actually shout out loud, “How could you do that?”
I would like to finish my review by thanking the author for portraying a truly authentic modern day family. The complicated relationships that are so true to nowadays set ups with re-marriages and same sex relationships no longer frowned upon this was a realistic but highly enjoyable read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 21 August 2020
I had not read Where’s Sailor Jack? so I wasn’t sure whether to read this book or not as I like to read books in order. However I decided to try it and enjoyed the ongoing lives of Bob and Richard. I found the way he talked about the politicians, Brexit etc really amusing. I don’t really follow politics or religion and realised quite early in the book that these would play a fundamental part but I found myself interested in his views. I found the whole story thought provoking. The way the families were weaved into the story was lovely and I loved the thought of Bob having older children with children and then met Wendy and then had two little ones who he adored. Bob meets Paul, an old friend, in the local graveyard on a trip back to his home village and it was obvious they did not get on but tried to get to know each other Paul is at odds with the world and started to change when he met Lucy but that did not last. Things get complicated and the characters intertwine and I liked the dynamics of the story. One minute it made me smile and another I was upset with the drama but all in all it was a lovely story of a family generally happy in their world.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 13 June 2020
A good read and a very entertaining follow-up to Where’s Sailor Jack ? As a Lancastrian born in the early 50s of lower middle class background with the good fortune to go to a grammar school and onto University, I could closely identify with the main character, Bob Swarbrick, and indeed the author himself. Many aspects of the book reflect my experiences and interests from football to musical tastes to the heartbreak of losing family pets.
The book enters into a wide range of topics from family relationships, religion, business, politics, north/south divide, football and cricket. And of course the inevitable evolution of changing attitudes and technological advances through the generations. The author relates all this with intelligence and I think reveals some profound insights on theological subjects and others.
The book demonstrates through its characters that ones origins can have a profound influence and can exercise a strong pull in later life to complete the circle as described in the book.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 13 July 2020
A welcome and much anticipated partner to the first novel, ‘Where’s Sailor Jack’. Having a male and female narrator in Bob & Wendy allows the fleshing out of the story from their differing perspectives. The mores of 20th century life are considered with all the complexities of family life, religious belief, science, the world of business and the trials and tribulations of the beloved football and cricket teams all in the mix! The plot develops by cleverly interweaving the writers’ reactions to the recent political landscape, with the inclusion of two feisty female newcomers, who personify more modern attitudes to love and life. Moments of sad reflection on times past and more recent life changing events are balanced with flashes of great humour, often at narrator Bob’s expense! A thought provoking read with an interestingly satisfying ending.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 12 July 2020 by Mary H Reviewer
A sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, look at the modern condition, including brexit, and memories of times past, like Dylans Freewheeling album. All in all a highly readable book, that links the generations.
Monica H, Reviewer
|I had not read Where’s Sailor Jack? so I wasn’t sure whether to read this book or not as I like to read books in order. However I decided to try it and enjoyed the ongoing lives of Bob and Richard. I found the way he talked about the politicians, Brexit etc really amusing. I don’t really follow politics or religion and realised quite early in the book that these would play a fundamental part but I found myself interested in his views. I found the whole story thought provoking. The way the families were weaved into the story was lovely and I loved the thought of Bob having older children with children and then met Wendy and then had two little ones who he adored. Bob meets Paul, an old friend, in the local graveyard on a trip back to his home village and it was obvious they did not get on but tried to get to know each other Paul is at odds with the world and started to change when he met Lucy but that did not last. Things get complicated and the characters intertwine and I liked the dynamics of the story. One minute it made me smile and another I was upset with the drama but all in all it was a lovely story of a family generally happy in their world.
| Nicola T, Educator
I found the writing style a little pedestrian for my tastes, and some of the characters a little stereotypical and/or unbelievable. However, it takes an intelligent look at modern mores and the Brexit debacle, which I enjoyed.
Louise W, Reviewer
|Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton are facing an era of Brexit, Momentum, Coronavirus and Donald Trump. Bob and Richard struggle to see the meaning of it all. In a world where faith and politics have .over beyond their sphere of influence and they feel increasingly cut off from their roots. Bob and Wendy must reconcile new memories and new children. Richard must save his family from themselves. This is not usually my type of book but I’m glad I’ve read it. I don’t read follow politics or religion. But it’s not really about politics and religion, it covers much more. It’s also more about when extended families get together to celebrate at Christmas, Easter, etc. The story is told from multiple points if view and set around Brexit. I really enjoyed this book. It was funny and sad. The ending made my heartbreak.
Kathryn P, Reviewer
|Read this without reading his first book Sailor Jack – whilst I enjoyed it, I think it would have benefited from reading the first instalment for some insight to the characters. Having said that, the characters were interesting and it was a great story of family relationships set against the back drop of Brexit and right up to date. A very enjoyable read, told from a male and female perspective.
Jules I, Librarian
|This was a bit of a sleeper agent for me. Not something I would normally read but it’s such a beautifully evoked portrait of family, and of the individuals within a family, that I was enchanted. Sharp and incisive on politics and religion, it was warm and tender on the connections between people, and the pasts we trail behind us. A delightful surprise.
Charismatic Critic 1, Reviewer
|I have to be honest and say that I really wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘No Precedent’ having never read any of Uttley’s previous work and knowing that there would be a lot of reference to religion and politics. However, I very much enjoyed this book and I am so glad that I decided to open my mind to new genres. The characters are all very different having evidently been exposed to a variety of upbringings and there are many unlikely friendships within this book. For me, this is what makes their relationships interesting and engaging. Maddie was my favourite character, although I did not agree with her life choices and often found her decisions hard to accept. I was remarkably surprised at her relationship with Bob who, considering he is from a different era, appeared to be non-judgemental and tried to understand her which I found quite refreshing. Politics does feature very heavily in this book, perhaps much more than I anticipated. At times I have to admit that I found it quite overwhelming and did skip over some sections near the end. That being said, it was interesting to read Uttley’s views on some of the political matters of today. Uttley has a very unique style of writing and one which may take you a few chapters to get into, but my advice would be to stick with it and have your tissues ready at the end!
Charles C, Reviewer
|I read this novel in advance of publication through NetGalley in return for an honest review. This is a clever, densely written, insightful and very funny novel, the first half written by main character Bob, the second by his wife. It is a delight. It explores the years leading up to Brexit, lampooning our leaders on both sides of the House of Commons as well as the Atlantic, with religion thrown in for good measure. The humour is a total delight and I found myself admiring the intelligence of the author’s agile brain as much as his very humorous slant on life. It is told in a meandering way, deceptively simple, almost like a journal, with messages from him to his wife, who reads what he has written. It starts with the words, ‘I’d better introduce myself, in case anyone ever gets to read this.’ In my opinion, anyone with an interest in politics, religion, family, the absurdities of life, should.
Beth M, Reviewer
|On seeing the cover for this novel, I had anticipated I would be reading a historical fiction. The age old adage “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” certainly holds true here as I found myself reading a story of a modern day British family dealing with Brexit. I hadn’t realised that this was the 2nd book in a series and feel I would have enjoyed this more had I read the first and got to know the characters. Not my usual sort of novel and I’m not sure I’ll read anymore in the series but I have no doubt it will appeal to many, particularly in the current climate.
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Jacqueline A, Reviewer
|A sincere thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley for providing me with an ebook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. This is not my usual genre, however I wanted to take the opportunity to read something from outside my norm. And I am glad I did!! Thank you for opening up my mind to something totally different. Characters were so well developed that I felt as though I knew them. I love when a book draws you into the story and it feels like you are living it with them.
|And here’s Erika’s review. It’s as well she’s told me she’s a fan.
Erika B, Reviewer
|No Precedent by John Uttley’s is the second novel he’s written that discusses Bob Swarbrick and Richard Shackleton’s lives, in a family heritage preservation style similar to the first. The book is not a direct continuation of the first, instead this one is written by Bob and his second wife Wendy, whereas Where’s Sailor Jack? was written by Bob’s son years after his fathers’ death. Following the first book, it discusses the lives of 60 to 70-year olds dealing with retirement, raising children during their 60s, finding faith amongst other issues. Going into this book, I will openly admit I was wary, as you can imagine if you’ve read my review for Where’s Sailor Jack? Which I found boring, confusing, and out of place in literary culture. While I do think this book has some improvements over the first, I still feel like these two books are slightly purposeless, lacking a direction and drive to them. It is likely this review will be short because my problems and grievances with the first book are often repeated for this one. Firstly, the sheer amount of characters present is unnatural in a book that is of average length. Because of the infidelities discussed in the first book, as well as Bob and Wendy having children much later in their lives, it creates a family tree with many branches, which are often irrelevant to the overall book. Not only is having too many characters confusing, but it distracts the reader from the very important themes that the book discusses of religions place in the modern world, and dealing with politics; whether we should retrospectively shame a group for actions they did 50 years ago, such as engineers damaging the planet. The blur of the characters phasing in and out of the story minimises the focus of the books core. Following on from this, something I discusses heavily in Where’s Sailor Jack? Is the conflict the author goes through of dealing with mundane and interesting. Initially, I thought this book would be a lot more calm, theological, and philosophical in nature, because nothing could top the first books scandals, right? I was so wrong. In No Precedent, the reader very early on is presented with a new ‘family’ (if you can call it that) which centres Paul, an old classmate of Bob’s from back in the day. Paul has recently moved back to the north after being in London most of his life, with a wish of wanting to die in the place where he was born. The scandal and drama that follows, with Paul at the centre and Bob as the peacemaker and fairy godfather figure, is the crisis the entire book centres around (and I would definitely call what followed a crisis). Not only does this ‘family’ involve themselves in infidelity, endless pregnancies, wavering sexualities, and cunning and sly characters clearly just manipulating people, it is all, once again, happening with a religious background and sanctimonious undertones. These two extremes that is presented in both Where’s Sailor Jack? And No Precedent is unnecessary and extremely contradicting, yet modern. The dilemmas these families go through, from random mood swings to sleeping with stepdaughters, to a minister-in-training sleeping with her colleague who is married, is exhausting and overdone, now that I’m on his second book. The author seems to be wanting to write an action novel despite his characters being in the comfort of their little northern, quiet village. This only adds to the importance of my next point – how did Where’s Sailor Jack? not mention any of this? Bob describes the events of the Paul scandal as ‘quite interesting’ and it clearly occupies much of his last years in Fylde, the setting of the book. The event of bumping into Paul that day shapes the entire narrative, and is presented only a couple of pages into the book, making me wonder if the sole purpose of this book is to carry on the fictional lives of these characters. If perhaps Paul was a character mentioned in passing in the first book and then this book developed from that, I think I’d understand, but even towards the end of the book, Bob acknowledges the importance of seeing Paul that day, believing it shaped many of his remaining days on earth. Bob’s acknowledgement doesn’t seem to be in line with the authors. Despite these weaknesses, in my view the book ranks higher than the first purely because Uttley created much more lucrative conversations and discussions, I felt. Lengthier dialogue between Bob and Sophie, or with Wendy and Richard, regarding moral law, where their faith fitted into their lives and others, topics of abortion and what the loss of a loved one meant, created a stronger bond from reader to character. Ultimately, I felt myself enjoying some of the characters a lot more than I did the first-time round. This book presented people as being more rounded and complete, as opposed to pieces of an infidelity puzzle Uttley was creating with the first. By the end of the book, I was left emotional at some of the characters deaths as well as feeling like I knew them personally. Overall, I did think this book was often forgettable, adding nothing to literary culture. Most of the time the characters were unlikable, sucked into the central scandals that Uttley felt he needed to add to give excitement to his novel. However, this book is a vast improvement from the first, both of because of greater character depth, as well as Uttley’s writing being raw and beautiful, as always. I hope to eventually read a Uttley novel that suits me a little more and will continue to support his upcoming work. I