Fishermen’s Tales by Peter Kennedy
-Reviewed by Eleanor Hemsley–
Fishermen’s Tales tells the story of the plague in Northern England, as a small village fights to keep it out whilst battling with their instincts to help others. Written by Peter Kennedy, it gives a desperate view of the plague from the eyes of the village people.
Kennedy’s writing style changes during the piece, and whether done purposely or not it does work. At the start the writing is very poetic, with lots of description packed in to set the scene well. The style holds up for a page or two before slipping into a more action-focussed story, leaving out unnecessary descriptions and getting straight to the point. Towards the end it slips back into a more poetic prose that brings the story to a more scenic end. This works well and gives a good balance of action and description.
It did, however, take me a long time to get my head around what was happening in the story and who was who. Many names are thrown at the page all at once with little or no introduction, and so at the start of the story I had to reread many pages to get to grips with each character. I guess it doesn’t help too much that the chapters are really short and each one brings a new set of characters.
I liked how the story started pretty much straight away. It was almost like a one or two paragraph introduction to the scene and then you’re there, right in the middle of the story, so you could get into the plot and the characters early on.
To me Bull is the main character of the story, the protagonist to be followed to the end. He’s also the strongest character, in terms of the writing and his personality. He’s a character that’s hard to like compared to most protagonists as he appears selfish and dominant, but at the same time it’s almost like he just wants to keep his village safe. As the story develops he becomes more violent and more corrupt, doing anything and everything he can to try to keep the plague from destroying his home.
Despite his selfish moments in the story, there’s one scene that really warms you to him. His friend is dying of the plague and, not worrying about his own health, Bull goes to him and hugs him. Instead of thinking of himself he comforts his friend, wanting him to die happy and peacefully. This warmed me to Bull’s character, because despite his outward boisterousness and selfishness it shows that he does actually care about other people.
Unfortunately, the only other character and story I found interesting appeared in just one chapter. This chapter follows the story of a young boy who goes out to sea fishing for the first time. His courage and determination to be seen as a man by his peers drew me to him, and then when he’s in trouble at the end of the chapter I want to see what happens and how he deals with it. Instead, there’s no mention of him again.
This happens more than once in the story, and I found it completely unnecessary. Kennedy writes a whole chapter about a new character, leaves their story on quite a big cliff-hanger, then doesn’t mention them again. I wouldn’t mind too much if their small snippets of story added to the main story in some way, but they don’t. It’s a shame too, because I found these stories to be more enticing than the main one.
Towards the end of the book there’s a chapter that is split into numerous small subheadings, each followed by two or three paragraphs of text. Maybe Kennedy had a reason for doing this, but to me it just interrupts a story that I was finally enjoying.
There’s also quite a big jump at this point in the story. It feels like a lot of time has passed and suddenly there’s a different Bull on the page. He’s gone a little mad and is on a bit of a killing rampage, which is different to the last time he appeared. All through the novel he’s hungry for power and willing to do anything to get it, but this still feels like a huge jump that wasn’t hinted towards, especially considering how well he knows his victims.
And then of course there’s the actual ending, that isn’t quite as clear as it could be and leaves some confusion hanging in the air.
Despite all of this though the story might actually be worth a read, for amidst all the bad things there are a few small sections that shine (these mainly being the single chapters about new characters that are left hanging). It would seem that Kennedy does have some great ideas for characters, and whilst the good ones really jump off the page the others fall flat amongst the surrounding mediocrity.