Tuesday, June 1, 2010

And Thereby Hangs a Tale by Jeffrey Archer

And Thereby Hangs a Tale, by Jeffrey Archer, was exactly as I had expected it to be: Fabulous.

A little background. I have read almost every Archer novel or short story collection. And naturally, when my mother mentioned that he had a new short-story collection that had come out, I was very excited. But I did forget about it at the time, until I went to the bookstore recently and saw the book. And then there was suddenly a light-bulb on my head, and I bought it almost immediately. But then I got to reading Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman, and my mom and dad started reading this book, so I left it alone for a while. Until yesterday, when I read the whole book in one day straight.

What can I say? The master has not lost his touch.

I love Archer first off all for his ingenious plots. He always has a unique story to tell (or at least a crazily unique twist on a seemingly normal story idea). He is able to right on a large variety of topics: from, to give you an example from this set of short stories, the story of a boy who falls in love with a girl as a light changes from red to green, to a story of how a golf ball can change a man's life, to a story of an amazing jewel theft with a stick of chewing gum as an accomplice. No matter what he's writing about, Archer never fails to astound. In this collection, there are a set of stories that seem, on the surface, pretty straight-forward, but really get you thinking at the end - not only about the plot but about the well developed, interesting characters whose story we are reading.

The writing, as always, is of amazing quality. Succinct, simple, and moving, his language is beguiling in its plainness. He writes tersely, keeping the plot moving (which is even more important in short-stories than in a full-length novel) and there is never a moment in the books where you feel like you're bored and want to skip ahead a few paragraphs - in fact, the book will often make you feel like you want to slow down and think a little bit about what's going on - only you will not want to stop till the final page is turned. While I was reading the book (and my mother has expressed a similar reaction) I would often stop for nearly ten minutes after each story just to process what all had happened, which is of course one of the characteristics of a good Archer story.

His characterization, as I mentioned above, is pretty spectacular. As an author who writes mainly about characters who are doing crimes, and that too in the relatively constrained format of a short-story, he is able to bring his characters out of cliches and make them unique, and (in the case of most of them) even like-able. Even though his characters often do bad things for bad reasons (love and money are the two top reasons - they are not in any way justified by stuff like "he needed the money for his little sister's heart operation) you can still empathize with them because of the way Archer writes - by making us go deep into the mind and the life of the character.

In this collection you will find love, crime, money, fraud, law and golf - all packaged very neatly in Archer's spectacular writing. Definitely worth buying for hours of entertainment, followed by more hours of entertainment after some time when you re-read the books and discover that you missed something crucial in your first reading. Read for a fun roller-coaster ride type experience, for page-turning suspense, and to be blown away.

Last words: Archer is one of the best fiction writers ever, and this collection proves that he hasn't lost his touch. Read only if you're prepared to look up at 1 am and realize, "I meant to sleep hours ago but time just flew away when I was reading the book."

And Thereby Hangs a Tale.


  1. You have written a pretty good book review for a 16 year old. I like Archer short stories more than his novels, but haven't read this one. Will read it on my next train journey.

    Also, you should try reading RK Narayan short stories if you haven't already. They are very good, and very Indian.

  2. Thank you for the compliment.

    And I love R. K. Narayan, especially his short stories set in Malgudi.

  3. I love your reviews. It reminds me of the time when I was younger, and as voracious a reader as you are right now. I am definitely going to be reading through your reviews, before picking up my next book.

    Have you read "Blink" by Malcolm Caldwell yet? Or "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts? Thoroughly recommend both. Oh, and "Kite Runner" too, if you haven't read that either.

    P.S. I agree with the earlier comment - you do not write your reviews like a 16 year old. But then, you don't read what most 16-yr olds too either. <3 u

  4. Hi,

    I've read Kite Runner, haven't read the other two, but I've planning to for a really long time now...

    Just read your blog post. Mm...I want to read something good. Unfortunately UTs are on.

    Thank you. :)

  5. Archer has, and will remain one of the best authors around! His writings are sheer magic!!
    Its not a rare sight to find someone sitting with an open mouth after he's just finished a novel/short story by the author!
    It happens to me atleast!! 'As the Crow Flies', 'Not a Penny more, Not a Penny less' did that to me! :P

  6. I totally agree - and the great part is, so many novels and short-stories later he still manages to surprise you. He hasn't lost steam at all.
    The ending of Not a penny more, not a penny less (I got this book for my 12/13th birthday I think) had me sitting and staring at the book for a few minutes, I think. A brilliant first book to start off a brilliant career.

    Which is your favorite archer novel?

  7. Sounds pretty exciting. I am saving it for a train journey!!

  8. Yes, trains are a nice place to read. :)


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