Fractured Idols, by Kevin Austin, is a bold indictment against the media, banks, religion, the credit crunch in 2008, and the idea of celebrity.
Sebastian Cartwright, an interior designer, lives in London’s super-rich Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. His colleague Magda, a Hungarian émigré, introduces Sebastian to her new friend Madeleine Armitage, a corporate wife. Madeleine irritates Sebastian right from the start. Magda’s lover Phillip, Viscount Brampton, invites Sebastian, Madeleine, and her husband for a long weekend in Spain. As soon as the long weekend starts, sparks fly.
The majority of this novella only has two scenes. The first occurs in Simon’s flat when he and Magda have Madeleine and Phillip over for lunch. The second occurs the first day in Spain and the majority of the action takes place during dinner. Austin’s book is heavy on dialogue, not plot, and reads more like a play than a novel.
The dialogue is fast-paced and witty, reminiscent of movies from the golden age of Hollywood. Sebastian is an older well-to-do gay man who is single and struggling with middle age and the state of the economy. His biting remarks are cringe worthy and if witnessed in person would make the hearer uncomfortable. However, one of the best things about reading is being a fly on the wall. We get to watch everything unfold from a safe distance, but without missing the cattiness. So when the characters bounce from one topic to the next offering scathing remarks, it’s entertaining and will probably garner a few smiles and chuckles.
While the conversations are stimulating and thought-provoking, it becomes clear halfway through the novella that not much is actually happening. Conversations during meals can only keep one’s interest for so long, no matter how clever.
The cast of characters assembled in this book on the surface offer a lot of promise. Each one is different, opinionated, and adds necessary friction to the group’s dynamics. However, the author keeps the characters at arm’s length, denying the reader to get to know them and to see them grow. Two-thirds of the way it becomes pretty clear that the author’s mission isn’t necessarily to tell a story, but to air personal grievances about society today. It starts to feel like Austin has forced the characters to get up on the soapbox for him.
Maybe, Austin sensed this because the last two chapters (out of four) drastically changed the focus of Fractured Idols. Unfortunately this occurs when there’s less than a quarter left and the sudden focus on developing the climax and resolution of the story is jarring. It’s very unfortunate. If the author spent less time supplying the characters with witty dining banter and more time on plot, this could have been a stellar story. It has all the basic ingredients, but the lack of proper editorial guidance doesn’t allow this story to take off.
The story shows promise and if you’re looking for a quick and snarky holiday read, Fractured Idols fits the bill.
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