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Saturday 25 August 2018

Book review - Joseph Barnaby

Sue Roebuck’s 2018 novel Joseph Barnaby is an engaging romance set on Madeira. It begins with a prologue flashback to March 2016 when Joe Barnaby is offered a lucrative job as a farrier to a successful trainer, Bobby Shaw. The chapter ends with a friendly warning by an acquaintance for Joe to ‘watch his back’… 

The story then shifts to August 2017 and we meet Sofia who lives with her aunt and uncle on a small island off Madeira itself. She’s twenty-six, sure-footed like a goat on vertiginous cliff faces, tends a number of bee hives, is beautiful, and is deaf. She communicates with her family by sign, though she can speak; her affliction was as a result of contracting meningitis when she was eight.

Working on the island as labourer and general helper is Joe, who has escaped from England for some reason still to be revealed…

For several months Joe had worked in a bar in the Madeiran town, quickly learning Portuguese. He proved popular with the regulars and made the acquaintance of a distinctive lady called Lua: ‘Her hair had always looked like unruly red serpents as if she used the same hairdresser as Medusa’ (p110). And then Joe was hired by Sofia’s uncle.

The scene is set. Gradually, and enchantingly, the pair get to know each other – the reticent Joe and the strong-willed Sofia. A fly in the ointment is Dário, who wants Sofia as his sweetheart. But he doesn’t like to hear her speak, and would rather she stuck to gestures, though he never bothered to learn sign-language. Sofia wasn’t comfortable with using basic gestures ‘because it amused onlookers and made her feel like an amateur Marcel Marceau.’ (p14)

Dário is deluded, however, even as he wondered why Sofia would be reluctant when he was such a good catch. ‘They were made for each other, soul-mates, kindred spirits. She’d soon realise her mistake, he was sure.’ (p106)

There are light-hearted moments and humour as well as mystery and suspense. When Joe is being driven by a local doctor with a car-load of deaf passengers, he foolishly asks a question. Whereupon the doctor takes his hands off the steering wheel to sign to his passengers! ‘Joe decided that if he valued his life on this twisty road, then he wouldn’t ask any more questions.’ (p186)

It’s also a book about relationships – not just the Joe-Sofia pairing. The Joe and Lua scenes are at turns mysterious and amusing. The fondness of Sofia’s aunt and uncle for Joe is exhibited subtly, with a light touch.

The accomplished storytelling of Sue Roebuck is bolstered by her strong affinity for Madeira and its people which shines through in descriptive passages that put you in the scene. And as a result I definitely cared about the characters.

Highly recommended.


Unknown said...

Thank you so much, Nik

Nik Morton said...

A pleasure. Good luck with the sales!