Friday, October 25, 2013

The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms: How One Man Scorched The Twentieth Century But Didn't Mean To by Ian Thornton

4 Star

Johan Thoms is poised for greatness. A promising student at the University of Sarajevo, he is young, brilliant, and in love with the beautiful Lorelei Ribeiro. He can outwit chess masters, quote the Kama Sutra, and converse with dukes and drunkards alike. But he cannot drive a car in reverse. And as with so much in the life of Johan Thoms, this seemingly insignificant detail will prove to be much more than it appears. On the morning of June 28, 1914, Johan takes his place as the chauffeur to Franz Ferdinand and the Royal entourage, and with one wrong turn, he forever alters the course of history.

Blaming himself for the deaths of the Archduke and his wife, Johan hastens from the scene, and for once his inspired mind cannot process what to do next. Guilt-ridden, he flees Sarajevo, abandoning his friends, family, and beloved in the fear that he has caused them irreparable grievance. He watches in horror as the Great War unfolds, every death settling squarely on Johan’s conscience. Turning his back on his old life, Johan does his best to fade out of memory.

But the world has other plans for Johan Thoms. As each passing year burdens Johan with further guilt for his inaction, he seeks solace in his writing and in the makeshift family he has assembled around himself. With everyone from emperors to hooligans at his side, and pursued by the ever-determined Lorelei, Johan winds his way through Europe and the Twentieth Century, leaving his indelible mark on both.

Rebecca - 4 Star

Picking this book off the shelf and reading the back cover, I was concerned I might be about to read ‘Forrest Gump does Europe’. You know the type of thing where the protagonist ludicrously manages to be a player at every major event in modern history. Thankfully it was nothing of the sort, being far more nuanced and less predictable. This is almost a fantastic book. It’s an intriguing premise and Thornton clearly can write stunning prose and can capture some very human moments; I found Johan’s death scene beautiful (don’t worry that’s not a spoiler). At times his writing is also very funny, gritty and Thornton’s ability to convey a sense of place is superb. He evokes the end of the world-ness of wind swept Sagres (at the southern tip Portugal) to perfection. But ultimately the story doesn’t all quite pull together in the end.

It could be argued that we’ve become unrealistic in our expectations; every film and novel must come full circle and mean something, when real life simply isn’t like that. However this narrative has many strands painstakingly set up, but then seems to peter out and lose momentum. I couldn’t help wondering if the problem is that it took Thornton seven years to write this his first novel. I had the impression I was reading many different books in quick succession and having the story punctuated by passages of Johan’s own literary offerings bored me.

If you have an interest in Canadian literature then you should definitely read this book, as Thornton is a literary talent worth watching. I just hope somebody pokes him frequently with a large stick to make him write his next offering at a swifter pace.

Thank you to Touchstone for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

Connect with Ian Thornton:

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...