||A Review of: Attraction
by Desmond McNally
As a student at school, my weakest subject was, and still is,
Mathematics. I did not take Advanced Physics and know next to nothing
about Quantum Mechanics. Imagine my discomfort when I discovered a
number of passages in Attraction dealing with these very subjects.
I hasten to add, however, that these mini-lectures did not diminish
my enjoyment of the novel. This is James Manlow's first foray into
the world of fiction, and a very creditable one it is.
Undergraduate Prentis ("Jack") Stone's bachelorhood is
ambushed by an attractive Anglo/French student named Anne-Marie who
is attending the same University. She recruits him to pose naked
for her, and he cannot believe his good fortune when this episode
leads to a passionate love affair resulting in marriage.
The first chapter of Manlow's book is a tease, with the reader
already deliberating what the eventual mystery will comprise. Sitting
in a hotel in Rennes, guarded by a Gendarme, Jack has ten hours to
reconstruct his life with Anne-Marie in order to recount it to the
ubiquitous Inspector Maguire, who is on his way from England to
take custody of Jack.
Jack's musings tell of an uncomplicated love affair with Anne-Marie,
and Manlow describes their life together in such a way that it is
like watching a black and white movie. Jack has switched his major
from literature to physics, and often tries to draw parallels between
his undergraduate work and his relationship with Anne-Marie. An
otherwise perfect relationship begins to develop small fissures
when the two travel to Paris to visit Anne-Marie's father Henry,
who is divorced from her mother Nina. Henry Parrot is an overbearing
type, a writer and lecturer of nineteenth century literature whose
relationship with his daughter is strained for reasons we will
The couple's growing estrangement is written in such an intimate
way by Manlow that I felt as if I was eavesdropping. The inevitability
of Jack and Anne-Marie's break-up is moving and sad.
When a body is discovered in a river in their hometown, Jack becomes
of interest to the police and is questioned by Maguire. It is at
this point that the novel begins to resemble a conventional murder
mystery with Jack deciding to flee to France (contrary to police
instructions) to try to reunite with Anne-Marie. Hence his presence
After several moving and brooding passages, the author's conclusion
to this tale is inventive and will not disappoint. This offering
by Manlow is a remarkably well-written first novel, passionate and
compelling, even though at times the "whiff" if you will,
is of a newly-minted Post Graduate.
As mentioned earlier, we are treated to short physics lectures,
with Jack frequently questioning whether our lives are governed by
fate: "Is the universe entirely deterministic?" and
"Are our destinies pre-ordained?" It is somewhat surprising
therefore that a novel so involved with physics succeeds in touching
the reader to such an extent.
Manlow manages to convey moments so vividly that the reader has the
sense of being present at the scene. One such passage captures the
beach at Arromanches-les-Bains with the spitting rain, wind, waves,
the cold, the detritus of war and the ghosts of young dead soldiers.
Such writing is wonderfully evocative, and the book as a whole must
be considered a triumphant debut venture into this genre. Attraction
is an excellent effort, and the title is most appropriate.