The Lunchtime reading group met in February to discuss “The Tightrope walkers smile by Gabriel Crane.
The lunchtime reading group had a new format for our meeting in February. We had met to discuss a book written by a group member’s husband which also happened to be his debut novel, ‘The Tightrope Walkers Smile’ by the author Gabriel Crane’. Not only was it the group’s chance to indulge ourselves in a work solely issued as an e-book on kindle (and the book was for the majority very warmly received) but a chance to meet and question the author himself. So this latter-day Daniel entered the lionesses den armed only with a box of celebrations for defence. With disarming charm and honesty he was most insistent that we “pulled no punches” in our thoughts on his book which had taken six years to complete. We started by asking how he came to write the book and the thought processes that were behind it. “I started at the end of the book and after that there was no excuse not to finish it” he replied and this is how it starts …. At the end of the 19th century on an island devastated by a terrible disease, a princess is torn from her home against her will by her parents, while her cruel and dangerous brother is left on the throne. Horrified and desperate to return to save the country she loves she must contend with her new life, an unexpected romance and the brutal captain of the guards who has no intention of letting her get away. It’s not long however before he and everyone else discovers that she’s not to be taken lightly. Four years later Anya’s father has disappeared and she is alone. One night a mysterious and terrified young man arrives with news and promises to help her find him, but warns that she is in terrible danger. As they are chased through the dark streets of her ruined town she can have little idea of the adventures that await them and the horrors that are to come. Much questioning of the author over plot twists (and the ending really does have a stonking one) began. With authors such as Hardy, Poe and Dickens mentioned by Gabriel as favourite writers, it was easy to explain that while we were reading it, more than one group member thought a certain Poesque, gothic element resounded through it. The author accepted graciously a member’s criticism that perhaps her enjoyment of the book was slightly marred by, as what she described as “jumping from modern language usage to a more Victorian style”. Indeed the group thought the latter was the more impressive and best received. With candour the author said that he himself would have gone back and changed areas or formats of the book for example chapter headings. While written for the teenage/young adult audience ‘The tightrope walkers smile’ has strong adult themes and anyone who has read past winners of the Carnegie prize for young adults such as ‘Junk’ by Melvin Burgess with its theme of drug addiction and teenage prostitution and last year’s winner ‘The Bunker diary’ by Kevin Brooks that offers uncomfortable but well written storylines of child abduction, will know that today’s young adult fiction has changed dramatically in content. Crane reasoned that his intended readers were mature and emotionally developed enough to cope with the sexual relationship storyline that was handled tastefully but not condescendingly for his readers, plus at times a gory (but not excessively so) plot. A seasoned member of the reading group compared it favourably with ‘The book of human skin’ by Michelle Lovric with its sibling protagonists prominent in the plot. What really especially pleased us was the real “cliff hanger ending” and to our delight and keen interest the author told us his new book – ‘And I will eat your heart” is to be released imminently and with a pleasing nod to Charles Dickens in a serial format, two chapters at a time, so thankfully no waiting six years for the next one. More shocks and twists are promised and with an element of Conan Doyle style mystery thrown into the mix we can’t wait. As a final caveat the author agreed that The Tightrope Walkers Smile would make a fantastic graphic novel.