The Bottom Line
A string of entertaining stories that are never really connected. It’s worth a few laughs but don’t expect much depth.
I’m not a reader of memoirs or much other non-fiction. I write novels and I read novels. But when we received a review request at The Wrambling Writers for A Minger’s Tale: Beginnings, I figured I’d give it a shot. A quick perusal of the sample sent by author R.B.N. Bookmark looked promising so I dove in. I tell you that I don’t read memoirs as a bit of a disclaimer. If you’re a fan of them, you might like this book a lot more than I did.
I’ll start with what I did like. The book reads like a collection of stories your father or grandfather might tell you. Quick, fun episodes from a life you know little about. Many of these story snippets are entertaining and I enjoyed Bookmark’s sense of humor in most of them. Since the author grew up in Manchester, I learned a great deal about life in England that I did not know before, so the book had educational value for me in that sense. The main thing that kept me reading was an expectation that the story was going somewhere. That all these disparate tales would be woven together into a greater whole to reflect the profound life lessons learned while collecting them. There was no hint of this along the way, but I was convinced it would happen eventually.
And that’s where the book really falls flat. While the individual stories are entertaining, there is nothing to connect them beyond simple chronology. There’s plenty of potential for it, particularly as some of the stories are very interesting. But when we reach the end, the flow of recollection simply stops and the last page is turned.
Perhaps some readers will enjoy the stories on their own, but I was hoping for something more and was let down. In Bookmark’s defense, he never promised anything more, so this element of the review is certainly subjective. That’s why I say readers of memoirs may enjoy this far more than I did. Other Amazon reviewers certainly seemed to. Personally, I think it would have been stronger had he taken a handful of these stories, filled them out some more, and built them around a single theme. Something more coherent than a simple string of recollections.
Beyond my critique of the overall structure and goals of the book, I found that the writing itself was sometimes awkward. Rarely bad or wrong, but often not as smooth or polished as it could be. It reads like the writing of a man with a strong natural talent for writing who has yet to spend time honing his craft. It follows a very predictable pattern where nearly every paragraph is punctuated by a bit of dry humor. Humor that frequently made me chuckle, but became monotonous before long because of the routine manner in which it was deployed.
I do hope Bookmark continues to write. I would actually love to see him write some fiction, perhaps even based on some of the life stories he shared here. But I can’t say that I enjoyed this first outing.
To Read or Not to Read?
Not. I hate saying this, but I can’t recommend this one. Maybe it’s my bias in favor of fiction (especially speculative fiction) but this one was a miss for me.
Don’t forget to check out my discussion of the book with Josh on The Wrambling Writers when Episode 5 is released on August 31.