Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Diary of Nicholas Oldman by MG Atkinson

H’mmm… where to start…

The Diary of Nicholas Oldman is a fanciful flight into the prehistoric past. It is 272 pages that explore the question: “how would modern man survive alongside dinosaurs?”

About MG Atkinson

MG Atkinson has an eighteen-year-old daughter who, he says, is going on thirty. He is currently employed as a Steward for a cancer care hospice, but writing has recently become a passion and he published his first book, The Diary of Nicholas Oldman, on Kindle in August 2014. His favourite book of all time is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He says that he has lost count of the number of times he has read it.

About the Diary of Nicholas Oldman

MG Atkinson has a flair for description and wordiness. He takes ten words where I would use one. This is not a bad thing, in fact I envy authors who can do this. I sit in front of my screen for hours on end, willing my short paragraphs to turn into entire chapters, but it seems I simply don’t write this way.

Atkinson, however, does it well and does it consistently. 272 pages of descriptive language, and I can feel the hot sun of the desert on my parched lips, I can feel the danger lurking just beyond my eyesight in the jungle, and I can feel the buoyancy of the raft beneath me. I take my hat off to him for this. His descriptive scenes were mesmerising and beautiful, clad in elegant language which encouraged me to keep reading.

However, I do have some caution to give. The shape of the book was non-existent. Nothing happened.

Or rather, everything happened.

Constantly and without rest, the reader is bombarded with adventure after adventure, the book becoming a series of anecdotes about survival in a prehistoric landscape burgeoning with danger. And I suppose that is exactly what a diary is. A compilation of anecdotes which come together to give a picture of an individual’s ongoing daily struggles. However, there is a reason why we don’t publish our teenage diaries. Diaries lack shape, are often disjointed, and are thoroughly egocentric. All of which this book is.

I have no solution to the egocentricity. Nicholas Oldman is, quite simply, the only human on the planet. Therefore the book will be centred on himself, as there is no-one else to write about. However, the repetition of the first pronoun begins to give the book a vaguely indulgent air.

I struggled to get a grasp on his character, which seems an odd thing to say after complaining that “it’s all about Nicholas”. However, I wonder if much of our perception of characters comes through the eyes of others, and through their interaction with other characters, and this of course is lacking here. There is no opportunity here to see Nicholas through anyone else’s eyes. Perhaps the addition of some stories from his life “before” would help here.

The book trudged on, and I trudged with Nicholas, him in search of somewhere to live, me in search of some purpose to the whole thing. The same level of alertness and emotional investment was kept throughout, and then suddenly, at the end, an epilogue. There is someone else in the book; there is another storyline! I loved this part, but wondered if bringing it in and out throughout the 272 pages would have added more intrigue. An extra thread to weave into Nicholas’ trudging. The finding of the bones, the classifying, the inspection, the missing of their importance, then, finally, on the day of his birth, the revelation.

I love this description around page 200 when Nicholas discovers his raft, which he had thought to have lost, and is so desperate to get to it.

“I remember pacing the bank up and down like a trammelled wild thing, looking out over the river and at my raft some hundred-odd metes away. My eyes never left the raft, even as I turned to pace back the other way, my body swivelled beneath my head and my eyes stayed firmly fixed on my target. Its outline was sparkling with that hunters gleam that only my frenzied eye could see.”

It becomes clear to the reader that Nicholas is going mad, the days of isolation and his sole focus on survival at all cost taking their toll. However, the beautiful description which unfolds to us is then kinda blown away a few paragraphs later by him telling us that he had gone mad. Summarising in case we had missed it. The spelling out of such a situation dulls its effect for me, and as I reader I personally prefer not to be spoon-fed.

This book is a fantastic debut. Atkinson had an idea, and saw it through. It was a mammoth task, and I cannot imagine the hours of work in penning and honing that has gone into it. It is near perfect in terms of grammar and style, and I know that there will be many fans of descriptive work who will adore this book, and be relieved when they find that there will be more.
You can find out more about MG Atkinson on his webpage here.
You can download The Diary of Nicholas Oldman here.
You can read about it on Goodreads here.

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