Christopher Fowler recommends Jim Shepard

Christopher Fowler recommends John Shepard

The decision of which book to read next is one of the most difficult in a reader’s life. A recommendation from a trusted source is invaluable, which is why we decided to start asking authors! Who better to let us know which books they’ve loved and which authors we should be reading?

We’ve kicked off with Christopher Fowler, prolific Crime Author, CWA Gold Dagger Judge and Book Reviewer for the national press.

Chris has chosen Lights Out in the Reptile House by Jim Shepard. Here he explains his choice:

‘Every month I try to read a book from an author I’ve never heard of. This month was the turn of Jim Shepard, much admired and awarded in his native USA, yet virtually ignored and unrepresented on these shores.

Shepard was born in 1956 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and to some extent has conducted his writing career in reverse, starting with six novels and moving on to collections of short stories. He’s the master of the in medias res ending, halting at the heart of the plot, and often uses carefully researched real events to drive his stories forward, allowing action to define character instead of opting for psychological epiphanies.

I just finished Lights Out in the Reptile House, which tells the story of 15 year-old Karel, who works outside of school hours in the local zoo. When his unemployed father vanishes, his place is usurped by a local party member who seeks to vitalize the quiet, apolitical boy, but at what moral cost? For this is a terrifying dystopian state, and fascist infiltration reaches down into the quietest backwaters. Karel is falling in love with the girl next door, trying to understand his feelings for her, and slowly coming to the realization that he’ll be required to make a stand if he is to survive. Shepard ramps the odds with brutal lucidity, and the end result is devastating. It’s compassionate, consummate storytelling that haunts long after the book has been closed. What impresses most, as in all of Shepard’s writing, is his ability to step chameleon-like inside young minds. Karel is forever feeling he’s just said the wrong thing, and trying to work out what he should say instead. It’s a downbeat novel, but incredibly moving, and I’ve just sent away for all his other books.’

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