It’s rare and wonderful. to finish a book and know that the main thing you want to say about it is that it was joyous.
I went in to ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ half expecting to be disappointed by finding that it had been over-hyped because Richard Osman has all the right media connections. I’d barely started the book when I felt any concerns slip away and settled into a book that I knew I would enjoy because I recognised the people and I saw that they were being displayed with a gentle humour that deepened into quiet empathy.
This isn’t a book you’re going to read for the plot (it’s fine but it’s not what you’re going to remember when you finish the book) this is a book you’re going to read because you become caught up in the lives of the people in the book and you want to know what will happen to them. Bit by bit, these characters colonise your imagination until they feel like people you know and mostly like and will miss if you don’t get to see them again soon.
So what makes this book so great? Six things:
- Deeply nuanced portrayals of people and class: how they behave, how they speak and how they think. Small things like knowing the ritual conversations people have to lubricate social interactions or that, while everyone wants to show off that the cakes they’re serving came from Marks & Spencer, no one mentions that their staples are delivered weekly by Aldi or Lidl.
- Understanding that old people are exactly that, old and still people. I loved that Richard Osman neither ignored the challenges and inconveniences of being old nor did he define these people primarily by what they can no longer do. He portrays his main characters as people with a rich past and a present that, while narrower and less varied than what they were used to, is still something that they shape. They have agency and sometimes it brings them joy and at other times it just gets them through the day – just like the rest of us.
- A story that which, although it has a complicated puzzle at its centre, is driven by the characters of the people involved and by the way that they behave towards one another.
- Four main characters who are vividly drawn and so diverse that I suspect that readers would debate endlessly who the best character is, and a strong supporting cast who feel so real that you feel that you’d like to spend an afternoon with each of them to learn how they came to be where they are.
- A playful approach to the genre, using all its tricks to distract and mislead. The story is rich in red herrings but the intent is more to tantalise than to surprise. The red herrings are like the cryptic clues in a difficult crossword, there to make you feel clever for having understood them.
- Lesley Manville‘s flawless narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear her at work.
The audiobook version also has a thirty-minute discussion about the book between Richard Osman and Marian Keyes that I enjoyed almost as much as the book itself. Normally, I skip this kind of thing, but the two of them got on so well and were so deeply engaged with the book and the people in it, that I felt included and energised by what they had to say. I was constantly going ‘Yes! That’s exactly what I thought’ or ‘I noticed that too.’ or ‘Oh, I’d forgotten that but it was good wasn’t it?’
Like Marian Keyes (and, it seems, large numbers of the reading public) I’m now a Richard Osman fan. The next book, ‘The Man Who Died Twice’ is in my TBR pile, reserved for a moment when I feel the need to be cheered up or to celebrate.