Wheel of Fortune
£6.99, Independently published
You can’t fault ambition. And neither Wrenn nor his protagonist – Graham Mitcham, solicitor, would-be politico and stalwart attendee of council meetings – lack it.
This dynastic tale, spanning four decades, is epic in scope and Wrenn clearly cares deeply about his characters. Mitcham finds, loses and rediscovers love, fights for historic buildings and aspires to Tory candidacy. His partner Becky has a keen eye for a business which may (or may not) take off and change their lives. The rolling successes and setbacks for Mitcham and his family, socially and professionally, give the novel its title.
This is the second book of the Mitcham saga and Wrenn has lived with these characters for some time. Perhaps as a result of that prolonged attention, the end product is a rather odd mixture of pulp melodrama and parish newsletter.
Much of the middle of the book is devoted to the proceedings of various meetings, topped and tailed by tragedy and riches beyond compare. A Sword of Damocles hangs over everyone in the story and after several vehicle-related disasters, none of the (surviving) characters should be allowed on the road again!
An eye for a twist and an obvious enjoyment in writing means it is easy to warm to the author, although Mitcham remains wholly and frustratingly two-dimensional. The problem is that the old writing adage of ‘show don’t tell’ is ignored. A third person, strictly chronological, date-led narrative means that there is little opportunity for the characters to take real form and for the reader to be able to invest emotionally. This lack of technique, combined with detailed exposition of, for example, planning administration and office etiquette means that it is almost impossible to inhabit the characters or their world.
Dialogue that stops the story in its tracks – ‘But… membership of a body that represents traders and businessmen in the town does not constitute a pecuniary interest in any item which does not directly involve the Chamber of Trade’ – means the novel lacks a consistency of pace and rhythm.
Still, it is difficult to be too critical of what is obviously a labour of love. If there is to be a third outing for Mitcham and his family and colleagues, a more considered structure and a less declaratory style would assist, giving a shot of much needed adrenalin to the narrative.
Tom Garbett is a solicitor