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The Turning
Paul J. Newell
Appian Publishing, 252 pages

The Turning
Paul J. Newell
Paul J. Newell was born in Somerset, England in 1977 and is the reader of dozens of award-winning books. He decided to become a writer himself so that he didn't have to get up so early in the morning. The Turning is his first attempt at a novel.

Paul J. Newell Website
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Appian Publishing Website

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A review by David Hebblethwaite

Paul Newell's biography may be self-deprecating ("The Turning is his first attempt at a novel"), but don't let that make you think his debut lacks ambition; what begins as a tale of missing persons ends up as a meditation on human existence itself. Our narrator is Lleyton Quinn, a forecaster of consumer demand by trade, whose help is sought covertly by Detective Sergeant Melissa Keller in investigating a series of cases in which people (more than one of whom is known to Quinn) have run away for no obvious reason. As the novel proceeds, it transpires that the runaways have been "turned" -- they have somehow come to stop caring about anything at all -- as Lleyton discovers first-hand when it happens to Keller. And, when he finds out who (or what) is behind the "turning," the implications for humanity will be...

More on that later. The first thing to note is that Newell has a breezy, free-flowing style and Quinn is a likeable protagonist -- up to a point, that is. Lleyton has a penchant for wisecracks, many of which are actually quite amusing; but there are a few too many of them and they become wearying after a while. He also tends to drop in background information seemingly as he remembers it; which might be closer to how people tell stories in real life, but it doesn't really work in fiction. It has the effect of making the novel feel uncomfortably improvised -- even if, in reality, the author planned it to the hilt.

I also have reservations about the background Newell has created. I'm not sure if The Turning is set in Britain or America (I think it's Britain, but some aspects feel American). I'm not sure if it's set in the future of our world or some parallel version. And I'm not sure if I can square all the different developments that have taken place; for example, computer technology has advanced considerably in Newell's world, but society doesn't seem to have changed to anything like the same degree; in some respects, the tale might as well take place in the present day.

But the background is perhaps not so important; it's the mystery and the ideas that are the centrepiece of this novel. And the novel is full of ideas and opinions; the trouble is, most of them are quite familiar (such as the problems of the consumer society) which, coupled with they way they're introduced, leads to a feeling of being lectured. And the cause of the "turning"? Alas, it's not up to scratch. Newell's explanation seems incompatible with the science underpinning it, and it's not effective as a major revelation. It would make a good starting-point for a story -- but not a good pay-off.

This review may come across as more harshly critical than I intended. As noted earlier, Newell is not a bad writer; the problem, I think, lies with the story he has chosen to tell. The tale as it is would probably work better as a novella; but even better would be a story that uses as a backdrop something like (though not quite the same as) the situation outlined at this novel's conclusion.

The last two words of The Turning are not "The End" but "The Beginning." Quite appropriate, too -- but it's a shame the novel closes just when it should be hitting its stride.

Copyright © 2007 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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