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Monday 13 June 2011

Not Enough Shades of Grey - Jenni Connor reviews Nineteen Minutes

When I’m travelling, I like to read something ‘escapist’; something I wouldn’t cry about if lost en route.

So, I took my copy of Nineteen Minutes with me recently to Cairns, Brisbane and Melbourne – don’t get the envies, I was travelling for work; though I did enjoy the warm weather at the beginning; Brisbane was really cold!

The novel, which echoes the Columbine High School ‘massacre’ in 1999, employs Picoult’s trademark, successful formula:

  • Highlight an issue – access to guns and the impact of bullying
  • Set the scene for a debate
  • Introduce a set of characters who are likeable, but flawed
  • Canvas their relationships and tensions
  • Build to a courtroom drama finale

Why then, didn’t this title work for me?

Maybe the issue – of a teen high school killer who wipes out ten kids and wounds 16 more – did not have enough shades of grey. However bullied he might have been (and he was), nothing in the plot or characterisation quite justifies the slaughter he perpetrates.

Maybe the relationships between characters were too forced? And, maybe the characters overall, weren’t likeable enough?

Is it feasible that the judge and the midwife become firm friends and then, without further discussion, fall out over the issue of family gun policy? Is it stretching probability that the prosecuting detective ends up in bed with said judge?

Maybe the inevitable Picoult-style sting in the tail – when it turns out that more than one person had their hand on the trigger – is insufficiently explained?

So, does this mean I didn’t enjoy the book? No, engagement and detachment are two sides of the literary coin and experienced readers slip in and out of total absorption and critique quite comfortably; that’s the trick we want younger readers to acquire.

I might try something with a bit more weight next though, so I can linger in the engrossed phase longer.

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