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'Sparrow' by James Hynes



James Hynes Sparrow

My rating: 4 out 5 stars

For a nearly eighteen hour long book, this was peculiarly riveting. Even more so when you realise there are hours of the story during which nothing much happens. And yet, those hours draw you in with their vivid descriptions of life at the tavern / brothel which forms the central locale of the novel. They make you care about the various characters, especially the young boy who narrates from old age what it's like to be a nameless slave living on the Spanish fringes of a slowly dying Roman empire.

The trundling, closely-observed nature of the general narrative makes any points of conflict stand out all the sharper. And be warned, some incidents may be distressing, especially the one which turns the boy (and I mean, a boy) into a 'wolf'. And under all of this is a pervading sense of uncertainty, of instability, of the idea that a slave is disposable, a possession that might be sold, or damaged, or thrown away on a whim.

Having spent all that time building layer upon layer of realism, I thought the ending was a cop-out. Maybe I missed something, but I don't think so. That apart, this was a surprisingly satisfying read. Theo Solomon as narrator helped. A lot. He caught a boy's tone perfectly and managed to differentiate all the other characters (there are many) with conviction.


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