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Burbage's Books

GSOH, almost solvent, no pets, own hair, sort-of employed, intends to quit smoking. Enjoys reading, meeting people in well-lit public spaces and the idea of hill-walking.

The Element -inth in Greek - Alison Fell

Part-biography, part-detective story, this is at the highbrow end of holiday reading. That said, the non-fiction bits are lightly done, and it couldn't be described as improving, so you won't get the admiring glances on the beach that, say, Boethius might garner. On the other hand, it's not a self-help book, so it won't repel them, either.


Fell, according to the disclaimers at the front, got a grant to spend three years to research and write the book, That is rarely good news for a work of fiction, and it's easy to see how it might have gone horribly wrong. Happily, although the editing leaves soemthing to be desired, the quality of the writing carries it off very well and even the dropped stitches and episodes of woolgathering are, on the whole, more interesting than annoying.


There is certainly a lot of skill needed to keep a dual-genre novel afloat. At some point, however fine the workmanship, the reader is going to wonder why the author's not just written two books, or a pair of tracts, and we have no exception here. In this case, however, it is worth persevering, as Fell neatly and, to my eyes, unexpectedly, finds a way to justify the work as a whole. This is probably where the editing lets the book down most, but the ambition, and the moral, is clear enough to be forgiveable.


The writing is definitely skilful, There there are plenty of thought-provoking details and some excellent and evocative descriptive passages, and the joy of writing shines clearly throughout. But I also felt a a certain detachment, a lack of a distinctive voice. I have not read any other of Fell's books, so I am not best-placed to judge, but it seemed to me as if the author was somehow holding back. Possibly that's on account of the structure but, either way, I felt that the author could have done with  another dozen pages to work with. Leaving the reader wanting more is, of course, no bad thing, but in this context, not enough for an unalloyed recommendation.