REVIEWS

REVIEWS OF PRESUMED DEAD

“I think your “Presumed Dead “ is very publishable- you have a great command of narrative dialogue, just enough occasional poetic word use to keep the reader alert and a convincing grasp of the way that individual and social events are tied up to produce a convincing and interesting storyline on topics of currently seething public interest, including over-development of coastlines, political corruption and the roles of individuals and the media within contemporary society.”  Reviewer: Phil Heywood, former Associate Professor and Head of Urban and Regional Planning in the Queensland University of Technology and President of the Queensland Division of the Planning Institute of Australia, who was installed in the National Institute’s Hall of Fame in 2013 is the author of three widely read books on Community Planning, [Planning & Human Need, (David & Charles 1974) The Emerging Social Metropolis (Elsevier, 1997) and Community Planning ( Wiley/Blackwell, 2011)] and of numerous articles on the human and social roles of politics and planning. He wrote to the author in September 2017. 


REVIEWS OF THE GRASS IS ALWAYS BROWNER

“Martin Knox is the type of writer who knows how to tell a wonderful story and post thought-provoking questions about life and the future. In his book ‘The Grass Is Always Browner’, Knox has managed to craft a political thriller, a romance and an allegorical tale of one man’s prophetic journey towards enlightenment, all within the umbrella of a deeply satisfying work of speculative fiction. This is a novel to savour and Martin Knox is a writer to watch” Dr Venero Armanno, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Queensland, author of nine bestselling novels including ‘The Dirty Beat’ (2007).


REVIEWS OF LOVE STRADDLE

“This novel by Martin P. Knox is vast in scope, scintillating in the brilliance of its conception and staggering in the creation of its hero. This is the work of a major talent, and I am very, very surprised that no traditional publishing house has published his work before now. That Martin Knox has decided to put his faith in the quality of his work and step out alone into the world of self-publishing says a lot about the character and courage of the man. His writing is tough and unrelenting and a real pleasure to read.
“In this opus, there are all sorts of stimuli that flood the reader’s perceptions, each with its own sense of urgency, each clamouring to be heard first. A reviewer can read and enjoy a novel, and be swept away by it, as easily as any other reader. But a reviewer must attempt to step away from the novel and look at the screws that hold it together. I mean, for example, that the plot structure needs to be evaluated for what it offers, and the characters, setting and narrative likewise. From these micro-bits working together a piece of writing emerges.
“Love Straddle has a structure that is ‘in your face’ at one level while bubbling away underneath where it is almost unnoticed. Every reader very quickly notices that there is a prologue followed by fourteen parts containing 105 chapters and that the naming of each part is accompanied by a pithy saying. There’s nothing particularly original about that, but what is striking is that each chapter is completed with what the writer calls a rule. We are told in the prologue that the main character is an engineer who has recently discovered “the natural laws of behaviour”, and that if he had known about these laws he could have avoided the unsettling events he has had to experience. The prologue ends with this little gem, surely the most telling observation that an engineer might not want to hear:
“Now I will tell you my story – at least, my part in events – including my own and other people’s emotions, that engineers like me normally ignore [my italics]. But emotions are important, as I have lately discovered (1).
The book then becomes a record of an awakening. Having been tricked into taking a lie detector test, Selwyn records, as an engineer would do, the clinical outcome of the behaviours that he had observed to this point viz Rule 1: Men limit lying to the speaking of untruths, whereas women include men’s insincerity and withholding of truths (14). “This overt structure remains with the novel throughout e.g. in a very important section, Part 4: Third Year Straddle, the writer explains that what is looming is a time “in which love becomes a commodity, relationships are investments, and I adopt the portfolio strategy of a spread between two relationships” (117).
Having determined in Chapter 21 that unconditional sex is rarely possible, and still pursuing the implications of tricking people into admissions they ordinarily would not like to make, a characteristic that exactly mirrors reality as perceived by a man such as Selwyn, our hero merges with Part 4 into the explanation for the odd title given to the work. Here we get into the concept of a straddle, a manipulation of the market in commodity futures:
“…an investor in commodity futures wants to spread the risk between commodities that are substitutes for each other… when the price of one goes down, the other goes down as well” (157).
“Selwyn then applies such a concept to women and their affections to comical effect. It is in the teasing out of this idea into human behaviours that the originality of Knox’s writing appears.
“The character, Selwyn, stands head and shoulders above the others. He is an egotist with a brilliant brain. He is capable of prodigious effort and marshals his time in ensuring that his goals are reached. He aims for a degree with first class honours and achieves it. He wants to become Chief Executive Officer of a major corporation and succeeds above all odds. Along the way, he tackles problems with originality and, through perseverance, makes his way to the top.
“But Selwyn has a vast lack in his makeup. He cannot master the skills of getting along. Aware that he is unpopular but lacking a notion that working or empathizing with others is a skill he should develop, he sucks people dry and then abandons them. He knows that his actions are hurtful but fails to see ‘what they’re on about’. Vicki drives this point home when she says, “If you wanted something from a person, you just went up to them and asked for it. When you had finished with them, you walked off, leaving them feeling used. You never bothered to find out about them or build a rapport. You are a control freak” (581).
“Moreover, and in this lies the originality of Knox’s character, the author never allows his readers to forget that Selwyn has a personality disorder. Selwyn pursues a subject long after a normal person has moved on. There are many examples of refocusing on this theme. The ‘theme’ is more closely aligned with the character than it is with the story. In Part 4 Selwyn becomes introduced to, and absorbed by, the concept of a straddle. He applies it to the women in his life. Four hundred pages later, despite the many and varied experiences he has had, he is still pursuing that idea. He says of Vicki and the husband Selwyn has just met, “She had never mentioned him. I suppose she had her own straddle and had sold me short. I could hardly blame her for that” (580).
“Vicki remains an enigma throughout the book. We know the pivotal role she plays. She is Selwyn’s ideal woman. But we know about her largely from Selwyn’s response to her; she is presented to us through the diffused lens of Selwyn. She is more developed than Barbara or any of the other characters, excluding Selwyn. I can see Vicki moving through the pages, but I can’t feel her. She exists as Selwyn’s foil. Barbara is not a person at all. Her role is to be Selwyn’s sex partner and the only time she becomes human is when she discovers she is pregnant. She is a mechanical creation rather than a breathing human being. The problem with Knox’s characters is that it is often difficult to distinguish one from another. Excepting Selwyn and possibly Vicki at times, the characters suffer from a sameness that makes it impossible to care about them.
“Little can be said about the settings in which Selwyn appears as he grapples with important technical and ethical issues. They are very clearly drawn and one can find little to quibble about. Knox is a master at showing us through indirect means whether Selwyn is in a boardroom or a jungle, on a plane or in a classroom or laboratory. We are never in doubt about where he is.
“One of the major strengths of Knox’s prose is his understatement. It’s a morose man who cannot marvel at this passage:
“I have a condom in my pocket. I have been carrying it since the lower sixth and it has embossed a circle in the soft leather. The mark embarrasses me because it shows a very long period of denial. I dread being questioned about this mark, and so I always keep my wallet well-hidden. The imprinted ring symbolises the many years of frustration I suffered.
“It takes some time to get going. Fortunately, I find some Vaseline in a drawer and take a chance that it will not weaken the rubber (111).
“This passage and the scene that follows in which Selwyn loses his virginity contrast sharply one with the other. The quoted scene tells us nothing of the pent-up, excited anticipation that most men would feel. But Selwyn feels no such anticipation, simply because he has no idea of the joy the encounter will bring him in the next few minutes. However, in the following scene, the language changes and Selwyn is “teetering on the brink of ecstasy before plunging into the delight of an orgasmic snowdrift” (111). Such language betrays a master writer. Knox is amazing in scenes like these, in manipulating the appropriateness of the prose to suit the situation.
“Good as the book is there are weaknesses that Knox might like to think about. I found the prolonged sex binge unlikely. I cannot imagine a man conducting himself in this way for so long. Selwyn may have lived through a decade when ‘free’ sex was supposedly easy to get. I lived through the sixties and seventies and observed no such freedom, but I cannot deny that others, presumably like Selwyn, report differently. On another point, there is a long description of Selwyn’s thoughts about communal living. This made very frustrating reading. It is not unusual that an inexperienced writer will produce a novel that goes flat in the middle. I would suggest that Knox trim this section heavily. It sags and detracts from a fine piece of writing.
“The last words in this review have to be delivered by the irrepressible Selwyn. Vicki has given him his marching orders and he has taken up with Helen.
“Vicki knows what I’m like. Her place in my straddle allows her full freedom. If it becomes possible, I still want to close out my short on her and exchange my love for hers, at my best price.
“Until then, I also have a long position and am invulnerable (591).
“What a hoot! This book is recommended very highly. Get hold of a copy from Amazon. You’ll enjoy it as much as I did.” – Ian Lipke, Author/Academic (30/06/14).


“An unusual love story with a main character that grows on you, as you feel for his struggle through life. Nothing seems to go to plan even though he tries to map out his life. Martin Knox has captured the era and developed characters with believeable angst in a real world that is not just black and white. This is an intelligent novel that makes you think long after you read the last page.”  – Donna Munro, Author (2014).


 

 

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