Why you should read ‘Entanglement’

There are books that make readers want to buy books and books that make writers want to write books. Steven Boykey Sidley’s debut novel made me want to do both.

First, disclosure: I know the author. I have eaten at his table and he at mine and his beautiful writerly wife, Kate is a friend of the heart. So I can’t really call this a review; there are too many connections and too much liking of the person to allow me to entirely impartially address Entanglement. That said, here I write only the truth.

When a friend publishes a book, a risk emerges from the moment you turn to the first page. What if it’s awful? What if I don’t get it? What if it’s consumable like cold slap chips, but not magnificent like Radium Beerhall prawns (pah! to you, Chris Roper). Entanglement is a heady and complex Thai curry.

The authors I most seek out are those that relentlessly explore the protagonist: his or her thoughts, motives, secrets, passions and doubts. Authors who allow the story to tell itself through the humanity of the characters, rather than through plot. Ian McEwan does that to my deep satisfaction, as do Sebastian Faulks, John Fante…

Of course plot is important. Without plot there is no story; but when a writer can allow the hero to seep through his skin into flesh and mind, distilling into a plot which flows from fingers to page – there you have the best kind of story. The kind in which you can believe. Steven Boykey Sidley is that kind of writer.

Yes, there were odd jarring moments. Entanglement was first constructed as a screenplay and, in earlier pages, there remain traces of dialogue straight from a script. Why was this not edited, I wonder?

I was initially startled by the overt resemblances to some of Sidley’s real life family and friends. I’m sure that many greenhorn novelists do that (and I sure as hell did in my – unpublished – MS) and this would mean nothing to a reader who doesn’t know the author from a can of beans… but I did have to get over that before allowing myself to be swept up.

At times I felt that the plot was implausible, until I soon realised that I had fallen into the trap set by many an overly commercial publisher: formula. Sidley’s story doesn’t follow a predictable formula. It follows plot as life follows plot: a capricious path etched by the motives and foibles of diverse characters and unexpected events.

I also battled somewhat with the protagonist’s (author’s?) little homilies; certain thoughts were at times, I felt, over explained to a thinking reader.

This is a thinking reader’s novel. I have recently been ragged for using the word ‘intellectual’ (don’t let’s go there), but Boykey Sidley is an intellectual writer – an intellectual man – and the sheer joy of this book lies in his ability to share his intellect without guile, pomposity or artifice. His honesty becomes this novel’s rich humanity. The language is strong, real and, at times, breathtakingly beautiful.

Another confession: I am a skip-reader (which sounds like one who nicks old Agatha Christies from the neighbour’s bin, but isn’t). The only author whom I have never skip-read is Jane Austen. With Austen, I reread passages for the sheer joy of their lemon barley bite. I didn’t skip one word or sentence in Entanglement for fear of losing a clue or motivation for the next moment.

This is a very good book. Not quite great, but I strongly suspect that Sidley’s next one will be.

Do yourself a favour.