16 September 2018

Blogtour review - The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech

The Lion Tamer Who Lost
Louise Beech
Orenda Books, 20 September 2018
PB, 323pp

I'm grateful to Orenda for a copy of the book to review as part of the blogtour and to Anne for the invitation to take part.

I was so excited to have an opportunity to read another of Louise Beech's books, having loved The Mountain in my Shoe and Maria in the Moon. It takes something special to get me out of my normal SF-Crime-Fantasy-horror channel, but Beech's books always do it for me. She has a real knack for weaving stories around people - flawed protagonists who are working on their lives, getting stuff done and working through who they are and how they fit in - or don't - with those around them. The past is always relevant in building her protagonists and we need to see how their lives developed - there are things to be gone over, worked through, recalled - but these are optimistic books, forward looking books.

The Lion Tamer Who Lost is essentially Ben's story and Andrew's. Ben has fled England (I don't think the word is too strong) to volunteer at a lion sanctuary in Zimbabwe, and Beech interleaves her story - mainly sections, past and present, following Ben and Andrew, but there are one or two other points of view - with extracts from Andrew's children's book, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. These extracts both function as hints about what's going on in Beech's book and also tantalise because the book-in-the-book sounds amazing itself (I want to read it!)

Ben and Andrew were lovers, and clearly Ben is in Zimbabwe because of some kind of problem (a falling out?) but we only gradually learn the background. And that's good, because it allows us to luxuriate in Beech's prose, her insights into character and lives, and to get to know these very real, very flawed people - not only Ben and Andrew but Esther, with whom Ben becomes close at the sanctuary, Will, Ben's impossible dad, and others (including the lions Lucy and Chuma). Beech has a rare gift for sketching characters you can believe in and want to spend time with. In particular, of course, there are Ben and Andrew, and Beech shows us both their similarities (such as absent parents) and differences (Andrew is older and out, Ben dreads what his father and brother would make of his sexuality). There's a frequent point made about people being together or not expressed by their matching the rhythm of their walk - which sounds a bit cheesy but, when you read about it here, is actually quite shrewd.

Louise Beech
The book is engaging from the start, very much a love story, also a growing-up story for Ben, the lion sanctuary he's gone off to being also a kind of temporary sanctuary for him. Is there an element of Ben using it to escape his real life, exploiting the lions (and I suppose also Zimbabwe, while he's there he never interacts with the local people) to deflect from his troubles? Yes, of course there is, and the interest and drama here is very much his facing up to that, discovering responsibilities he can't run away from, and accepting those. I wouldn't want to be too harsh on Ben - once you learn what exactly happened you'll sympathise with the situation he is in - but he does become a much, much more admirable characters over the course of this book.

So, really, Beech has done it again - created an enthralling and believable cast of characters to accompany us on a journey with at its heart a solid vein of emotional truth. An excellent and wise book.

This review is part of the book's blogtour - please do follow the tour at the other sites hosting reviews, extracts and other treats. See the poster for details!

To buy the book - you know you want to! - you could visit your local bookshop (this may help) or try the big stores here or here.

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