T.J. Masters
Passionately Writing Passion


Well Read Wednesday: Normal People

With all the hype around the currently playing tv series, I’m sure that many of you will have had an instant emotional response one way or another, to my choice of book to review this week. Sally Rooney’s book generated both high praise and low disdain just as the tv show seems to be doing and I must admit that although I’ve had the book in my posession for some time, a certain level of hyperbole prevented me from opening it. I was mistaken.

At the time of writing, BBC One is half-way through the series so I promise, no spoilers. The series is faithful to the multi-award winning book for the most part although the endings are not quite the same and I suspect this is to leave the way open for a second series even though Rooney herself has no plans to write one.

As a romance writer myself I am wary of reading within the genre where possible oversaturation leads to formulaic story-lines and flat characterisations. Normal People avoids the trap and refreshes the genre beautifully, tenderly, intelligently. If there is one issue that this old man has with the story, it’s the occasional urge to bash the characters heads together and knock some sense into the pair of them! That however would be grossly unfair and it would destroy the choreography of their journey together.

Connell and Marianne are teenagers in the same small town of Carricklea, County Sligo in the west of Ireland. Their story begins in  that time of economic depression following the “Celtic Tiger” boom. Marianne is from a rich family  and is intimidating, a loner and outcast in her final year at school and Connell is the son of their cleaner (a young single mother), and a popular star of the school football team. Both are very intelligent and they strike up an awkward but riveting conversation which is the start of their clandestine relationship. Connell hides the relationship from his friends through a sense of shame. Marianne persuades Connell to follow her to Trinity College in Dublin, where most of the rest of the story is set over a four year period. At Trinity their roles are reversed with Marianne finding friends quickly but Connell finds it hard to fit in due to class snobbery. They do reconcile and weave in and out of each other’s lives throughout the university years.

At it’s most simple, this is a highly perceptive, nuanced and emotionally honest tale of two mismatched lovers who share a profound understanding of each other but whose love is tried on the battlefield of class, power and the falsehoods that each one chooses to believe. The story is universally accessible but will I’m sure be held to account by many who for whatever reason choose to distance themselves from the reality of the longing, the depth of the intimacy or the vulnerability of the characters. That said it would be a mistake to think of the relationship as simple. In places it is quite dark and demands compassion from the reader such as in dealing with Connell’s depression and his escape into writing – fellow writers will smile at Rooney’s witty comments here regarding the literary world. Also there is Marianne’s masochistic streak and her attraction to sadistic, bullying characters. I was impressed that the characters did not shy away from these deep personal issues, nor did they make a big deal out of them. Just like two normal people.

Well Read Wednesday: The Binding

Welcome to the second of my new Well Read Wednesday series of personal book reviews. This week I have chosen another novel which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The Binding

by Bridget Collins

I will admit that it was the beautiful cover of this book which initially grabbed my attention. When I saw the author’s name I recognised the writer of some great stories for Young Adults and so I read the blurb and was hooked. There were two reasons for this. Firstly it sounded like an unusual tale with a great premise. Secondly this is the author’s first foray into writing for an adult readership.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to start an apprenticeship with a Bookbinder not far away. The elderly and mysterious Seredith is a woman who, like her profession, arouses fear, superstition and prejudice, but neither Emmett, nor his parents can afford to refuse her summons.

Emmett leaves home, and Seredith begins to teach him the craft of hand-making beautiful volumes but along the way he learns that all the books contain real memories taken from real people to be sealed forever in the pages of the precious books. If you want to forget something, a binder can help you. If there are memories that need erasing the binder can assist. Your past can be stored away safely in a book and you will never again remember your secret, however terrible it might be.

These volumes are stored away in a vault beneath Seredith’s workshop. Row upon row of memories meticulously kept and recorded. One day however, Emmett discovers that one of the books has his name on it. What should he do?

Of course with this mysterious craft comes great responsibility an there are some unscrupulous practitioners who do not live by Serediths moral code. Books are sold and traded purely as a form of salacious entertainment.

To see this simply as a book about books is to do it a grave injustice. At its heart is a love story between two idealistic young men. There is tension, humour, pathos, horror and romance between its covers. If I have any reservations about the storyline it is that the early hints of mystery and magic are forgotten once the fires of romance have been ignited. Latent talents or special powers are suggested for Emmett but then discarded.

For all that, the story delivers strong themes and deep, emotional characterisations. As a writer well versed in teenage angst, the author can be forgiven for writing a lead couple who are both angsty and full on. Abusive fathers, exploitative employers, soul searching about soul stealing, it’s all here in a beautiful immersive story.

I loved it and heartily recommend it as a great read.


The Gasman Cometh – Available Now!

My new title, The Gasman Cometh, is now available from Amazon!

The Gasman Cometh tells the story of sexy young central heating engineer Chris who is sent to the home of the older and more confident Colin Andrews to repair a fault. So far the lad’s life has amounted to little but Colin takes a shine to his repair man and circumstances now lead him to want to help turn things around. Of course mistakes must be punished, but who says that love cannot start with a spanking?

You can get it at All Romance E-BooksAmazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.