I read Half the Human Race, Anthony Quinn’s second book, over a Bank Holiday earlier this year, and his third The Streets is at the top of my Christmas list, but I’d never read his first book before, which I bought in Oxfam last Saturday.
The Rescue Man is a very drawn out book that relies very much on its reader respecting the atmosphere it have created. A bit like The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, it is written in the style of the period it is set, and has a very unlikeable protagonist, but unlike The Little Stranger this book takes so long to get into that when the action occurs it feels pushed in and forced rather than a release of long built up tension.
Set in Liverpool just before, during and after the Second World War, The Rescue Man is Thomas Baines, sometime architectural historian, a man approaching middle age with apparently nothing to show for it, now commissioned to write a book on the history of Liverpool’s buildings. Baines lives alone, putting things off, and is a very frustrating person to have as your main character, and I never warmed to him. He meets and becomes friends with a couple who run a photography studio and becomes infatuated with the wife Bella.
Baines was born that little too late to be a part of the First World War, and is stuck in that limbo of just missing out on everything-war, love, a family, but he’s so reserved and boring that I didn’t really care about his turmoil over Bella, his first love that broke his heart, his crush on his only friend’s girl, Baines seems to be a leach who has never left his own city through lack of imagination yet somehow seems to be a respected historian and have an endless supply of money.
During the war he works as a rescue man, helping people trapped in bombed out buildings at great risk to his own life, and falls in with a group of volunteers, all appropriate stereotypes of working class lads, whom he sees as the bravest of the brave. He starts a relationship with Bella, which I suppose is very dramatic but again, I didn’t really care owing to how much I disliked him.
Liverpool the city is brilliantly described and the history of it is fascinating, and it is different to see a war-time book set in a city other than London. The writing is lovely, and parts of this book could be picked out and put on a stage but what made Half the Human Race so very very good was that it was about people I cared about, and this book isn’t. This book is an experiment in form using historical fiction, which works and appeases literary critics, but that doesn’t make it readable, and that made me sad. However, this was his first book, which is extraordinary, and his second was a million times better, so I am now even more excited about his third, which is out in hardback at the moment.