Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words
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Ashley is an Australian novelist, poet & teacher. He is the author of three other novels and six poetry collections. City of Masks is his debut novel and it's available right now. A sequel, The Lost Mask is due mid 2015. His latest is a novella set in Japan, a ghost story called A Whisper of Leaves.
“The Fairy Wren is a contemporary fantasy set in Australia, where Paul, a bookseller, struggles to juggle attention from a strange bird, a shady best friend, an Italian runaway and a missing ex-wife, all the while struggling to cling to a long-buried dream.”
This was a mixed bag for me. The writing was excellent, easily good enough to carry me through to the end, but my engagement with the story was patchy—at times fully involved, at others, wondering why the plot had wandered into a certain place.
The main character, Paul, was likeable and believable as were his life challenges. The town in which he lived and the fellow business owners and the family members he interacted with were compelling enough to make me want him to do well—I was rooting for him.
However, the magical realism associated with the wren, and the odd on-again-off-again episodes featuring a young Italian girl popped me out of the story. Would the police really be that blaze about her? I struggled to understand what role she and the wren played within the plot. It seemed that all of the events could have unfolded without their involvement. Also, the scenes with his friend, Jon, and Paul’s ex-wife stretched my suspension of disbelief.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the story, but, like Chinese takeout, it didn’t keep me satisfied for long.
Clean copy. Australian idiom.
Rating: *** Three stars