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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: The Man from Primrose Lane

The Man from Primrose Lane - James Renner

Genres are good. They narrow down the field and help us find the things we love. I support genres as an aid, not as a rule: it's good to not grow stagnant, become so enveloped in one area that we ignore the rest. But genres can be limiting. How do you classify some works which cross genres? And what the hell do you do with a book like The Man from Primrose Lane?


So my library has The Man from Primrose Lane in the Horror section. Sure, it has its grisly moments, but horror is one of the last genres I'd think to classify this novel as. It may bear some similarity to the work of Stephen King, but we can do better than the horror label. How would I classify James Renner's debut novel? Well, initially I'd say it's very much a literary mystery: there's the murder, the whodunit, and the interrogations. But as a whole, I don't like mysteries and I liked this, so I'd focus more on the literary side of the label. Then, stuff happens. Big stuff. Stuff that should make any fan of Mitchell or Murakami smile. It's a big mess of stuff that will infuriate many readers who feel the author has hijacked a great mystery; my personal reaction: bring it on! I loved it. Sure, it was heavily convoluted, extremely difficult to follow, but it was so much fun trying to piece it together. It's difficult to say more without giving it all away. A thrilling literary science-fiction mystery horror novel: how's that for a genre?


I think any open-minded reader of speculative fiction should take a shot at this novel. The storyline is riveting and the characters are great. I won't pretend like the novel doesn't perhaps become a little confused in its... oh, the risk of spoilers... that is to say, I thoroughly enjoy David Mitchell, but sometimes his writing lacks a certain coherence and plausible (albeit paranormal) outcome (I refuse to believe the underworld or whatever it was resembles Ghostbusters 2); Renner's novel steps onto that same road, but takes it nowhere near as far as Mitchell has done, in my opinion. In short, some suspension of disbelief is necessary on more than one occasion, but I don't think this should deter the more open-minded reader.


How would I classify The Man from Primrose Lane? Brilliant. I loved every minute of it.