‘Smoke’ by Dan Vyleta

SmokestarOverhyped by the book world, I had high hopes for this atmospheric Victorian Dickensian novel. Imagine that whenever people sin, they let off a cloud of smoke that is visible to everyone! Imagine a city of sin, in this case London, thick and gritty with soot in every nook and cranny. Now imagine that this is a conspiracy where the aristocracy has found a way to control their smoke, leaving the impoverished masses in a huge filthy mess. Compelling no? Unfortunately…no.

The originality of the story and possible themes around sin and oppression should have been enough of a premise for a cracking great novel, and the first hundred pages at the boys’ school were promising, but it bottlenecks in the middle and ends up going nowhere.  The characters were interesting enough, and were themselves interested in Smoke and how it works, but there was never a progression towards any answers to the mystery or any reason to continue turning pages. From an interview with the author, I learned that he did not want to have any identifiable themes in order to leave it all open to interpretation by the reader, but in my opinion it resulted in a random novel with not much to say. It made me appreciate more old fashioned structure with clear themes and compelling plotting and pacing.

True confessions…I stuck with it, in the hopes that it would improve and I could still pick up a thread, but gave up with a quarter left and do admit to skimming through the rest, just to be done with it.

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