Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Being Light by Helen Smith

Being Light

This is a very entertaining book. Readers familiar with Smith's prior work, “Alison Wonderland,” will become reacquainted with several chracters, including Mrs. Fitzgerald, a private eye; Alison and her daughter Phoebe, who assist Mrs. Fitzgerald; and Alison's friend Taron. It is not necessary to have read “Alison Wonderland,” nor is it necessary to keep notes on the myriad characters, because Smith is able to make them memorable with very deft description, so that when they pop up unexpectedly in the narrative, we recognize each individual's Leitmotif immediately.

The book begins with Roy, an affable middle-class man, and his more edgy friend Brian, inflating a “bouncy castle” for children attending a charity fair. Roy's whole relationship with gravity, tenuous at best, is completely transmogrified by a gust of wind that lifts him up with the castle and deposits him in what he thinks is (and there is no reason to think otherwise) Paradise, complete with an adoring angel named Sylvia, plus chickens, ducks, a cow, a dog, and an elephant. Roy's disappearance is a complete disaster to his devoted wife Sheila. When the police are no help and Mrs. Fitzgerald can find no leads at the outset, Sheila casts her lot in with a clairvoyant and other mediums, eventually going all over England with little aluminum foil earlaps to try to tune in Roy.

More twists and turns evolve as we meet Jeremy, a cross-dressing eco-activist; Venetia, Sylvia's former boss (she wants the elephant back); and Jane, a trendspotter-cum-journalist, who has to find a story in everything.

The characters all sound “light,” but some have agendas that are very weighty. There is a hint of criminal activity afoot, and one character buys too heavily into the idea of lightness and meets a ghastly end. Some don't “get” it, and are simply barmy or shallow, but interesting nevertheless.

This book, besides being very entertaining, is a good book for self-publishing authors to look to as an example. It is free of typos, avoids the two-adjective-noun, two-adjective-noun death march to boredom, and manages to tell a lot of story without a lot of words.

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