More Than You Can Say

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More Than You Can Say by Paul Torday, book reviewIn the early hours of the morning in a private gentleman’s club in London, feckless Richard Gaunt accepts a double or quits challenge on a £3,000 bet; he must walk to Oxford, arriving at the Randolph Hotel in time for lunch. Why not? It’s not like Richard has anything better to do. Since leaving the army Richard has struggled to settle into life on Civvy Street; his fiancé has dumped him, he has no job to speak of and his landlord is pressing him for unpaid rent.

Just after dawn, Richard becomes aware of a vehicle slowing down behind him; several hours later he wakes up in a room he doesn’t know. After his bumps and bruises have been examined by a doctor, Richard is introduced to Mr. Khan, a debonair Pashtun who has a proposition for him. A mysterious young woman, Adeena, is staying at the house; Richard is told she, too, is from Afghanistan but with her pale skin and fair hair she doesn’t look much like the women he saw while stationed in Afghanistan himself. If Richard marries the woman, Mr. Khan will pay £10,000 into his bank account. Richard, who has never given much thought to anything in his life, accepts the proposal, assuming that once married, he can resume his usual life, £10,000 better off.

But as soon as Richard is a married man he suffers an attack of conscience and makes off into the countryside to escape Khan and his minders; what he doesn’t expect is to find his reluctant bride waiting on the doorstep when he gets back to London; as Adeena tells her story, Richard resolves to do whatever he can to protect her from Mr. Khan – even when a friend of a friend warns him that the security services may be interested in interviewing his new wife.

More Than You Can Say is a real departure for Paul Torday but the familiar style is still recognisable; the settings will be familiar to Torday readers and there’s even a cameo appearance from Eck Chetwode-Talbot, most recently the hero of Torday’s The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers. The character of Mr. Khan first appeared in that novel too. On the face of it, the plot is rather unlikely but with Torday’s distinctive, almost fairytale, telling it doesn’t seem quite so absurd. Torday has this knack of very subtly making the real seem faintly unreal and he usually achieves this by using a sole narrator. While perhaps less engaging than other Torday heroes, Gaunt is still a pretty compelling story teller, though given his history of laziness and apathy, you do have to question how reliable his account is.

Curiously, although Richard is a more developed character with much more of a back story than Torday’s previous heroes, there’s something not quite right with the characterisation. Interspersed with Richard’s account of his encounter with Mr. Khan, are flashbacks to his stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s a presumption that his experiences there have contributed to his behaviour after leaving the army; he sets up a restaurant with his fiancee, Emma, but fights with the customers, ‘borrows’ from the till and finally has sex with a waitress in the cellar before Emma finally gives him his marching orders. I get what Torday is trying to say but it doesn’t quite work. That said, Torday does make some interesting and valid points about the experiences of our boys in Afghanistan and Iraq and how the returning soldiers are supported (or not).

I have mixed feelings about this novel; the characterisation is largely strong and the cast members are certainly engaging but the plot demands a thriller and Torday’s insistence on reprising his trademark comedic style dents the credibility of the story. He sits uncomfortably somewhere between full on satire and straight thriller which means that he doesn’t make the most of Richard’s back story and fails to get across the true horror of the events Richard describes from his tours in the Middle East. Richard’s encounters with the security services are largely unbelievable – God help us if we are relying on people like this to protect us from terrorists – although the book does become more entertaining as the momentum builds towards the climax.

I didn’t hate More Than You Can Say but it’s not a patch on Torday’s previous novels.


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More Than You Can Say
by Paul Torday

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Written by Mary Bor
Mary Bor

Aspiring travel writer and avid Yugophile living in the UK and Slovenia. Loves (in no particular order) Scandinavian crime fiction, Indian food, walking, scavenging, Russian dolls

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