A trivial point first, I think. John Twelve Hawks's novel The Traveller is known as The Traveler in the US. Where, for reasons best known to themselves, they spell things differently.
I first heard of this book about three weeks ago when I read a review in The Times, or its Sunday sister. The review made it clear that The Traveller had been heavily hyped. Hmm, I thought. Just goes to show how remote (or 'off the grid' as Hawks would say) we are out here in darkest Wiltshire, because I had never heard of the book.
Anyway, I looked it up in the Wiltshire library catalogue -- and behold! They actually had a copy. Which is a novelty in itself, because (a) they often don't get copies of popular and/or much-reviewed books, and (b), when they do, the new titles take weeks or months to get catalogued. Once I got over my surprise, I put in a reservation and found that I was the book's first reader.
Well, perhaps I should say 'attempted reader', because having ploughed through a hundred pages I am going to give up. Sorry, but this just ain't for me.
John Twelve Hawks is, one assumes, a pseudonym. Rumours allege that he is a well known novelist who is moonlighting (I doubt it), or one who has failed under another name (much more likely), or that he is actually a collaboration (entirely possible, given the patchy and, to me, unsatisfactory nature of the prose). Anyway, JTH is a bit of a mystery man. The book's jacket says only that he 'lives off the grid', which presumably is intended to create an air of mystery. And he is said to communicate with his publisher only by untraceable satellite phone or through his lawyer. All cobblers, no doubt, but it helps to generate talk.
As for the book, what the hell is it? Well, I suppose it's a techno-thriller. A mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and thriller. Heavily influenced, I would guess, by movies such as The Matrix, and aimed at a similar audience.
The plot seems to boil down (and here I quote the flyleaf) to a life-and-death battle 'between those who wish to control history and those who will risk their lives for freedom and enlightenment.'
All of which is all very well, and not unattractive in its way, but the problem, for me, is that the book just doesn't work. The early chapters are not well handled from a technical point of view. The viewpoint is not clear, and there is too much stodgy information conveyed to the reader directly by the author, rather than being passed on painlessly in the course of interesting action. Most of this background information could, I suspect, have been kept until later in the book.
Chapter 3, my notes say, is much better, and Chapter 6 is quite well written. But I still wasn't at all interested in the characters. For a start there are too many of them, and none of them are very convincing.
One way or another, I found this book curiously adolescent. Which is not, in itself, off-putting -- I've read plenty of children's books in my time, and enjoyed them -- but I didn't have any real confidence that the author knew what he was doing.
From my point of view, the book is chiefly interesting as an example of what you can do by way of marketing hype if you take enough trouble and spend enough money. This book began, I presume, as a concept in the mind of an author. But it could just as easily have been a concept dreamed up by an agent or a publisher, who then put the package together.
Somewhere along the line the originating publisher, who seems to have been Doubleday in New York, was persuaded to put up some substantial capital. And, according to reports from those who know about such things, the marketing campaign was aimed not so much at the public as at the marketers. For instance, a number of ladies dressed up as one of the book's characters, Maya, were mixing with the crowds at BookExpo America.
You can find an account of the hype at Cross-Media Storytelling, together with links to various web sites and a blog which is (so to speak) written by one of the book's characters, Judith Strand.
All in all then, what we have here is a determined attempt to generate buzz and publicity in relatively new and innovative ways. And it seems to have worked.
Certainly the book is generating acres of newsprint and there are masses of links on the web. The book is also reported to be on various bestseller lists. The movie rights have been sold, and there will be two sequels to make up a trilogy.
The major newspapers, for reasons explained last week, have given the novel a reasonably warm reception, but you may find that some smaller reviewers may be more enlightening, e.g. Shots or Blogcritics.
Well, credit where credit is due, I suppose. The various editions of The Traveler or The Traveller are selling lots of copies. Which is the point of the exercise. Compared with that, the fact that the book isn't actually very good becomes almost irrelevant.