REVIEWS OF SHORT OF LOVE
Review by Vesna Mcmaster, author and editor
‘In ‘Short of Love’, Knox has taken the picaresque genre by the cerebrum, presenting a narrative alternately amusing, shocking, and deeply familiar by turns. The unrelenting pace and clean style combine within a paradoxical whole, both epic and microscopic simultaneously. Add to that an author/reader relationship that defies convention, and you have this curious and memorable work, which will present an entertaining challenge to the end.’
Reviewed By K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite
Short Of Love is a work of picaresque satirical fiction penned by author Martin Knox, which explores the notion of love and relationships, and how we treat other human beings when we view them as commodities for love rather than as individuals. The action of this conceptual and intriguing piece centres on the deeply selfish Tom Archer, a student with eyes on the prize for a future as a career man. When he meets Vicki Hillstone, however, Tom’s distraction and desire for a relationship with her set him on a collision course in a way he never thought possible. After their university days are marred by secrecy and short-sightedness, can they ever achieve real happiness together?
Author Martin Knox has created a fascinating parody of modern love and its effects on life, whilst also managing to stay true to the nature of many relationships where competition becomes a feature over compassion. The narrative style is intriguing and may not suit all readers, but Knox’s relationship with the reader is as intimate as the central character Tom wishes he could be with Vicki, in all its irony. At its heart, the aspect of vulnerability is both pathetic and comical, rooted in the same deceptions that we all play out in order to attract a mate and seem better than we are. The dialogue conveys this sharpness well and brings the characters to a new level beyond what the narrator reveals to us. Overall, Short Of Love will interest any reader who enjoys dissecting relationships and the notion of romance itself.
Short of Love launch September 15th 2019
REVIEW OF SHORT OF LOVE BY VESNA MCMASTER
Introduced by Ross Allen (MC)
Vesna graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge University, UK with a degree in English Literature. She has written short stories, articles, and poetry, been selected in competitions and published over numerous venues. Her fiction novel The Fastro Connection (2014) was well received, as was her collection of short stories Tricksters, Knaves and Mountebanks. She has produced recordings of all of Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets, and created a website with paraphrased versions of them to go with the recordings. She formed the Newcastle Shakespeare Society Australia in 2016, for which she holds and leads all events. She has been published in numerous anthologies, and collaborated in creating several. She edits manuscripts, creates book trailers, and offers fiction proofreading and voice recording services. She lives in Newcastle, NSW.
VESNA’S TALK NOTES
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the process of editing Martin’s book, and as always, it’s been instructive. As Ross mentioned, I’m also a writer. It really is the case that the more you look at various types of writing, the deeper understanding you get of how your own writing might be improved, or at least perhaps where it falls short. Critiquing others’ work is a golden opportunity and I’m very grateful to Martin for providing me with it.
I’m terrible at editing my own novels. (Hence my pile of unedited novels in the digital ‘bottom drawer’.) Martin on the other hand is the most meticulous and most dogged reviser I’ve ever come across – and I know quite a few authors. Personally, I’ve never seen revision schedules like the ones Martin came up with; let alone ones that were followed through on. What you see in this finished book has not fallen there by accident. Maybe this is what happens naturally when a science teacher turns their hand to fiction writing; I don’t know. Whichever way, it’s pretty humbling. Because in the process of writing, typing ‘The End’ at the close of the first draft might as well be translated to ‘The Beginning’, because there is such a huge proportion of the work yet to be done at that point. And for the writer, it’s infinitely harder to change what you’ve already created than to initiate something new. So what I’m saying is, the portion that I worked with Martin on has been the difficult one, the painful one. To his credit, he took everything on the chin, and soldiered on, no matter what I threw at him. And I threw quite a lot.
Which leads me to the first general comment. Short of Love is a complete re-working of an earlier work. This predecessor was presented as a first-person narrative and was almost twice as long. So before any of the work for the current product started, Martin had to unpick the previous (gigantic) efforts and completely re-mould them into a form better suited for his audience. This in itself is a Herculean task, and was all done before I ever clapped eyes on the manuscript. One of the outcomes of this reduction in volume is that the pace of the novel is relentless. You won’t be falling asleep over this one.
Another reason you won’t be falling asleep is – well, it’s unconventional. In fact, that’s kind of why Martin brought me in on the task. I think initially there was an idea of my offering a ‘solution’ to the complete incompatibility of the outlook of the novel with any notions of gender equality. This, I have not done. The book in itself cannot have such a ‘solution’. Instead, it is itself a gigantic question, posed in novel form. Now, I think my views and Martin’s views on this are, to this day, not quite on a level. My belief is that we, as societies, still do not have the full page open on the gender equality debate, and a work such as this helps to do so. Those of you who would consider yourselves feminists, read it, and see what it tells you about the motives and insecurities that lead to misogyny, and you’ll be forced to consider what, if anything, might be done to eradicate those. Those of you who consider yourselves non or anti-feminists, read it and see whether this is a vision you would agree with in any way, or not, and why. If you don’t give much of a toss about the gender equality debate one way or the other, read it, because it’s something different, and it’ll make you laugh, and possibly check the prescription of your reading glasses.
Martin tells us that this book is a form of memoir. However I don’t think one would approach is as one would, say, the memoirs of a politician, where the veracity of the occurrences are of some import. What we understand by this statement is: ‘It’s personal’. Of course, all literary works are personal, or what would be the point? The author has something to say, or they wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be writing. We could do worse than remember this comment on the memoir form, from Isabel Allende:
‘A memoir is my version of events. My perspective. I choose what to tell and what to omit. I choose the adjectives to describe a situation, and in that sense, I’m creating a form of fiction.’
To look at it from the other side, one could argue that all fiction is memoir. Loosely, this is T.S. Eliot-esque theory that whatever the author’s superficial subject, they will always be writing about the issues that most deeply trouble them, one way or the other. So, if the author’s father has just died and they don’t mention that at all but are writing about a cricket on a leaf, they’re still writing about the death of their father, and the ethos of those emotions will seep through to the cricket on the page.
The question goes right back to the larger issue of originality and creativity. Can humans really give ‘to airy nothing a local habitation and a name’, or is it the author’s job to accumulate those nebulous concepts that none can see nor name, but nevertheless do exist, and give them a solidity that bears scrutiny and exchange? And is this process more akin to memoir, or fiction, or are those labels superfluous when it comes to transmuting concepts into words?
It was one of the remits of my work on the novel to try and answer Martin’s question: how can a pre-sexual revolution narrative be presented honestly to a modern audience? Much like the previous remit, I’m afraid I don’t think I answered this. Namely, because I don’t think it needs answering. Most of my personal study is dedicated to Early Modern writing (that is, 16thand 17th century), and that’s well and truly prior to the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Societal mores vary vastly not only over time but also across space and circumstance. If the author describes the scene well enough, all those differences are clear to be seen, and there needs no explanation. This is not to say that readers don’t feel the need to seek for one.
I’ll give one example, from a Shakespeare play you may well know: The Taming of the Shrew. Here the main male character refers to his new wife as ‘my goods, my chattels; she is my house, my household stuff, my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my anything,’ as he carries her off forcibly to a honeymoon from hell. Critics often explain the misogyny of The Shrew as a combined result of a young, hot-headed playwright and the different standards of the time.
While both of these observations may have weight, it’s often overlooked that the play aroused as mixed responses in contemporary audiences as it does today. Response-plays and follow-ups show that some Elizabethan audience members thought the balance of power swings the other way half the time, some laughed at Kate’s plight and thought it an outcome well deserved, and some were mortified by the whole experience. In 1897 George Bernard Shaw wrote of the play that ‘The last scene is altogether disgusting to the modern sensibility.’ However in 1971 Germaine Greer wrote, of the same passage, that ‘Kate’s speech at the close of the play is the greatest defence of Christian monogamy ever written.’ The reader’s take on the piece, and what they come away from it with, is, it seems, capable of transforming the import of these depictions of the ‘gender wars’ 180 degrees.
So, I’m offering no excuses, and no interpretations of the outrageous departures in Short of Love from what we might call acceptable gender logic. Instead, I’d like to ask the reader: Why are these departures there? Are the departures themselves trying, in a circuitous fashion, to return to some sort of harmony? Is the insistent negation of all emotions other than his own demonstrative of a profound fear of the Other, and the only method of control that the main character can bring himself to hope for? I’ll reach back to Allende to remind us of the reality of writing in the memoir form:
‘In a memoir, feelings are more important than facts, and to write honestly, I have to confront my demons.’
Demons are most certainly confronted in this novel, and not solely those of the author, but some of those of our society and collective consciousness as well. Whether they are conquered, allied with, or merely outed, I’ll leave you as readers to decide.
One thing I think is extraordinary about this book is the peculiar relationship the reader has with the author. It’s written in the third person and from the perspective of the main character Tom. However just because we see the events from Tom’s point of view, doesn’t mean we agree with them. The character provides a dimension of silent commentary that occurs in the gulf between what one would expect, or agree with, and what actually transpires and the opinions Tom purports to espouse. Or rather, that the author says he does. This technique is almost as old as the novel form itself, and is called the use of the Unreliable Narrator. Tom is certainly vastly unreliable (in the literary sense), and we are never quite sure what the author’s intentions are, or how firmly the tongue is in cheek.
Which takes me to the question of the novel’s genre and place among literary works. I’m assuming most of you haven’t read it yet. I’d describe it as a combination of Tom Jones, Catcher in the Rye, and St Augustine’s Confessions, with a Beatles soundtrack. Tom Jones for the rapscallion, picaresque aspect, and endless parade of jaw-dropping events. Catcher in the Rye for the unabashed use of raw unacceptable material, dragging unsavoury things out of the shadows and into common view for scrutiny. And the Confessions for the overall aim (I think) of forming a malleability and a weakness in the reader, via the abasement and frankness of the creator, towards a consideration of acceptance and reconciliation. There is nothing in Tom Archer that a reader can possibly throw at him more than he has already thrown at himself. Whether Tom Archer is aware of this or not, is a grey area. We can’t know the answer, but the speculation on the subject in the reader’s mind is, I think, the key to that dialogue of compassion that might in some form lead to conclusions much more harmonious than might be suggested in the text.
There is a strong Quixotic strain throughout the novel. Misguided though he is, Tom Archer is in his own way a hopeless romantic, with as warped a sense of the reality of human relationships as Cervantes’ windmill-tilting knight. Although Tom himself focuses obsessively on relations (or the failure of relations) with the opposite sex, the reader-eye-view sees the miscommunication is a global issue for this character. Like Don Quixote, the prize he is supposedly chasing is, to the greatest part, a construct of his own imagination, and shaped to meet what he perceives to be his own needs. Vicki is his ever-unattainable Dulcinea, whose very function is, by definition, to be unattainable. Here, however, the similarity might end, because while Don Quixote’s notions of chivalric code teach him that this is simply the way life is and always ought to be, Tom Archer’s projections of ideal femininity and how these should interact with his narrative ricochet back onto the object of his desires in a spiral of resentment and indignation. And where does this leave the reader? Perhaps, I would suggest, taking a step back, and viewing Tom’s impulses in the light of the effect of unregistered isolation from society as a whole, and how easily this might be directed into a single-minded channel: in this case, an exasperated sexual howl. Is this a useful dialogue to have? Yes, I would say.
In short, I would like to thank Martin again for the opportunity of being part of such an interesting project. The world of publishing is a difficult one, and Chance and Lady Luck play a huge role in determining which authors are remembered, and which not. However I do know that this work has some salient and novel characteristics which, should they fall into the right hands, could be noted down as significant steps in the course of literary narrative. I’d encourage you to take a punt on it, and be in on that first wave that gets to respond to a text before all the other critics with fat weight behind their names come in on the game. You get first pick. So if you haven’t already done so, go and buy the book.
Thanks very much for listening.
REVIEW OF $HORT OF LOVE
ONLINE BOOKCLUB REVIEW – Stephanie Elizabeth
JANUARY 15TH 2020
Short of Love by Martin Knox is a fascinating piece of satirical fiction. It explores love, relationships, and the moral impact of viewing people as commodities, rather than individuals. The story revolves around the exceedingly selfish Tom Archer, a student with his eyes fixated on a future as a successful engineer. But his focus wavers when he meets Vicki Hillstone. He becomes so wholly consumed by his desire for her, that he is driven to a whole new level of distraction.
Early in the story, Vicky tricks Tom into taking a lie detector test. With the results, she learns that Tom hasn’t been fully truthful with her, and he winds up “shorting” Vicky for later. This leads to devastating consequences. Ultimately, the reader is left wondering whether a relationship built on such secrecy and lack of foresight can survive.
The author creates an intriguing parody of love and its effects in modern life, while also commenting on the nature of relationships in which love isn’t a central theme. The writing style is quite curious, and while it may not suit every reader, it certainly shows how incredibly familiar the author is with his main character. This is itself a perfect irony, because such a level of intimacy is one Tom tries, but cannot find with Vicky. Additionally, I found that for all of Tom’s show of cold calculation, his vulnerability was quite the commentary on the same deceptive ways in which most of us behave when trying to attract love: that is, trying to make ourselves appear better than we are.
Interestingly (and because I’m a big Beatles fan), I also found the snippets of lyrics from this iconic band to be a fun addition to the story. Indeed, I noted 22 specific mentions of the band and its songs! I definitely found myself pausing to think about the deeper connection between why and where such lyrics were strategically placed. I would be curious to learn more about the author’s intention by incorporating The Beatles to the extent that he did.
REVIEWS OF PRESUMED DEAD
Reviewed By Grant Leishman for Readers’ Favorite : 4 Stars
Presumed Dead by Martin Knox is a crime mystery that almost has a feel of Perry Mason about it. Jane Kenwood is a maverick local council politician who has been expelled from her party, which currently governs the city of Alexandra. She continues to frustrate and annoy her ex-colleagues on the council by staying in politics and winning re-election as an Independent. When a casino proposal, requiring the demolishing of a heritage building, is presented to the city and supported by the ruling council, Jane goes into attack mode to stop it and to propose an alternative use for the heritage listed building – a multicultural centre for the use of all the diverse ethnic needs of Alexandra’s citizens. When her colleagues, Dr Phillip Keane and her old friend Cutter, both cross the party floor to oppose the casino, it suddenly seems like Jane may have mustered the support to defeat this proposal. But then Jane goes missing and the hunt is on to find her abductors and/or murderers. Dr Keane, a former police forensic scientist, takes the lead in the investigation of finding Jane. Jane and he are lovers and he is desperate to recover her and destroy the perpetrators.
Presumed Dead is a classic “whodunit” and author Martin Knox does a very credible job of describing in detail the investigative techniques of crime scene analysis that the character had developed in his years as a police forensic scientist. The story is well constructed, with possible “red herrings” thrown in at appropriate points. The two principal characters of Jane and Phillip are well drawn and easy to relate to and empathize with. It is interesting that, as in real life, Knox has sought to bring two people with polar opposite personalities together in a romantic relationship. Jane, the firebrand extrovert with a passion for politics, and Phillip, the quiet, methodical, introvert who struggles to relate to people on a personal level. I particularly enjoyed the political undertones of the story and the ideals of what truly constitutes democracy. The idea of scrapping political parties and independent politicians voting on their conscience every time has been floated often and I think even trialed occasionally. It brings a real modern-day relevance to the story – one only needs to look at the political turmoil in the US at present to see the dangers of partisanship and party politics. All in all, a very satisfying read and one I can recommend.
PREVIEW BY PHIL HEYWOOD
“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.”
Phil Heywood is 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.
REVIEW OF PRESUMED DEAD BY ABACUS FOR ONLINE BOOK CLUB MAY 21, 2020
Phillip Keane meets Jane Kenwood; they are both city councilors. She is politically independent, and Dr. Keane has an alliance with the Liberal Party. He admires Jane as a woman; he is in awe of her as a feisty politician and is sympathetic to her politics. Will these two independent people find harmony with each other?
Jane requires all her courage, logic, and political acumen to fight the two main parties: the Southland Labor Party (SLP) and the National Liberation Party (NLP). The members of these parties take bribes and get rich at the expense of the people they represent. They govern for self-interest, and worse than that, the two parties collude to keep themselves in power.
The presenting problem is whether the city of Alexandra’s Immigration Building should be used as a casino or as a multicultural center. Jane is fighting more than political greed, and she fights for her constituents to have their say in government. They want a multicultural center. Can Jane outwit her opponents and change the political environment in Southland, Australia?
Very early in the story, we know the crime: the kidnapping of Jane Kenwood. We know her abductors left her without food for five weeks, then dumped her in some concrete footings, and workers pouring concrete sludge rescued her from the wet concrete. The whole book is devoted to investigating the crime using a novel forensic process. I’m not going to spoil this surprise, but I am sure you will find it as exciting as I did.
The numerous supporting characters in the book provide a rich tapestry of personalities. They include the councilors, the police investigation team, the inevitable anonymous voice issuing orders behind the scenes, Jane’s support group, the Lord Mayor (LM), the paid thugs, and the marvelously quick-witted concrete pourers. All these characters are believable, sometimes a little stereotyped, but we have all met people like them. Each group has a distinctive way of talking and thinking, so each cameo is different and exciting. Presumed Dead gives credence to the saying, “it’s not the crime – it’s the cover-up.”
The pace of the book is sedate, allowing for time to experience all the investigative techniques and the political power plays – so like politics today. Another intriguing aspect was Phillip’s ability to understand Jane’s mind by the movement and appearance of her left or right eye. The author was able to describe for us the conflicting emotions experienced by someone who suffers from post-traumatic distress syndrome (PTSD). The love story between Phillip and Jane also progresses during the chaos of fighting the council. We need a Jane and a Phillip now to solve the partisan American swamp politics.
I rate Presumed Dead 4 out of 4 stars, for creativity, its focus on science, and the investigative techniques. I do not rate it 3 out of 4 stars because It was innovative. I found no errors. (Note: Some spellings are Australian English.) There was nothing I disliked about the book. It was a joy to read – educational and humorous. There are some detailed descriptions of an autopsy which may be too much for some readers.
I recommend this book to lovers of science, politics, crime investigation, love stories, authentic characters, and people who love a unique approach to a crime thriller.
REVIEWS OF THE GRASS IS ALWAYS BROWNER
Reviewed by Dr Venero Armanno, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Queensland, author of nine bestselling novels including ‘The Dirty Beat’ (2007).
“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”
REVIEWS OF LOVE STRADDLE
Reviewed by Donna Munro, Author (2014).
“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.”