Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes

chelsea_jack's review

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Cannonbridge has the atmosphere of a modern action-mystery combined with Lovecraft. I thought this was the book's greatest strength - it has this really ominous, impending-doom atmosphere that absolutely made me think of Lovecraft. Many of the characters we meet - particularly in the historical context - become aware of a horrible truth that the reader is not let in on until the climax of the story. Instead, the reader - or at least *I* had a sense that something horrific was right around the corner through the entire book.

The book shifts back and forth from the present day to the nineteenth century. In the present, we follow Toby Judd, an academic whose wife has just left him for a leading scholar of Cannonbridge. Toby soon has an epiphany - Cannonbridge is an elaborate hoax! When he shares his observation with the world, he's forced to go on the run, egged on by other conspiracy theorists and threatened by a very lethal, very mysterious unknown aggressor. I found these sections quite interesting as this is when the story, it felt to me, is really unfolding.

In the sections from the nineteenth century, we're witnessing moments in time when Cannonbridge surfaced - always in relation to other well-known authors. I thought these were kind of neat at first, but the novelty quickly worn off. While a few of these scenes are integral to developing the tension of the story, and to providing the reader with clues about the truth, I thought that many of these scenes were ultimately unnecessary. They tended to slow the pace of the story down, and I felt that they taunted me by emphasizing all of these characters who knew the secret, while I did not. Frustrating!

There's a really clever idea here, and as the reveal does happen, it becomes clear why Cannonbridge is written the way it is. Unfortunately, there was too much build for me, too much pressure on that clever reveal. I was letdown - yes, it does really wrap things up nicely, but the pacing of the book was so often so very slow, and if I'd been slightly less committed to finishing the book? I don't know that my faith in the story really coming together would have sustained me through to the end. Cannonbridge would have worked better for me as a short story or novella, requiring less commitment to get to that clever reveal.

Bottom line:

Cannonbridge is a modern day action-mystery that delves into the historical, and while it hit so many of my sweet spots - history and academia with an emphasis on literature and authors - I just did not get hooked. The atmosphere is great - very Lovecraftian, I thought - but ultimately it took too long for the big reveal to make clear why everything was written the way it was. I would have preferred this story in a shorter length, I think!

3 stars
For fans of historical fiction, conspiracies, Lovecraft

Received in exchange for an honest review.

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ellieasnora's review

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An interesting book, the plot was cleverly mapped out and I found it difficult to put down. However the characters seemed to fall flat, I didn’t find them particularly interesting and the storyline didn’t flow as nicely as it could.

I thought the transformation of Cannonbridge due to human greed and capitalism was well done, but I didn’t find the story as enticing as other books that I have read

abookishtype's review

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One of the things that drives people nuts about Charles Dickens is the sheer number of coincidences in his novels. Inheritances come out of nowhere. Relatives meet by chance in unlikely places. Etc. etc. But because he’s Dickens, ol’ Charles can get away with a lot. I thought of this a lot in Jonathan Barnes’ Cannonbridge. There are a lot of stunning (as in, they will stun you as you read this book) coincidences in Cannonbridge. Barnes is no Dickens, however. But by the end of the book, Barnes reveals a ballsy ending to explain just how a formerly unknown Victorian author managed to meet Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, a young Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over the course of a century—all without aging...

Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.

krisrid's review

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I think the best word I can come up with to describe this book is "over-blown".

The ultimate premise of the story - which I won't disclose to avoid spoilers - is somewhat clever, and quite timely given the state of today's world. The biggest issue for me was in the execution. The author's approach to how he got around to telling us what was really going on just felt a bit precious to me. I don't want to use the word pretentious, because I don't think the book was that. At least, it didn't feel that way to me.

But the use of a variety of literary lions - both real and fictional - to ostensibly spool out bits of the plot to the reader, which I think the author meant to be sly and quirky, in the end came across as flat and forced, at least, that's how it came across to me. The way the literary characters were presented, and the actions they took in relation to the plot were sort of pale and mild, which is defensible for some of those characters, but very much OUT of character for others, and overall it was nowhere near the impact it could have had if these characters had been written as we all understand them to actually be, personality wise. This was a missed opportunity. If you are going to invoke these types of iconic and famous individuals, do them justice. I didn't feel that was done here.

In fairness, I will say that I wanted to know what happened, and I read the entire book to find out, so points for writing in such a way that I felt I really needed to read the entire book to understand the answers and the ending. The feature of alternating past and present storylines was better than some books I've read with this approach, but definitely not the best instance of this style of delivery.

I did like Toby quite a bit, and was engaged in his story of a normal sensible person suddenly dropped into an insane, seemingly-impossible set of circumstances through which he must somehow navigate to try to determine what the hell's going on, and what he can or should do about it.

The ending fit the rest of the book when you look back, and was an appropriate ending for everything that came before it. So the resolution was proper in my opinion.

Overall, I can't say I LIKED this book, but at the same time I wouldn't say I DISLIKED it. It had some pull on my interest and attention, and there were aspects I found very intriguing. But the two-star description of "It was ok" was closest to describing how I reacted to the entire book, once I'd finished it.

cindyc's review

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Review at Draumr Kopa Blog:

‘Cannonbridge’ is one of those few books that demand a lot of thinking and are still very compelling. It tells the tale about Dr. Toby Judd, a man whose life crashes and burns around him at the very beginning of the book. In his state of mental instability he starts obsessing about Matthew Cannonbridge, one of the most famous authors in English history. Dr. Judd has a feeling that something isn’t right about his work. Something just doesn’t fit. When he decides to investigate the infamous author, he stumbles across a lot of mystery, death and secrecy. He makes it his mission to find out what is going on with Cannonbridge and what secret is so important that people would kill for it.

I loved the writing; it had sometimes bordering poetic or lyrical. It might be a bit too much for some people, but for me personally it really fit the story rather well. A large part of this book focusses on authors of the 19th Century in England and this writing style seemed to fortify the feeling of that age and that subject.

The story jumps from present to past, with the flashbacks showing famous English authors at a certain point in their life. Each and every one meets Cannonbridge and we can see the evolution of Cannonbridge’s character through these flashback. The man who started out as a polite, benign stranger ends up a weird and threatening man.
It was very interesting to have these flashbacks to other famous English authors. Most of them I knew (Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens…), but some I had never heard of. It was fascinating to take a look online to find out about their background and the works they wrote. It helped me understand their parts in the story better.

The fantastical aspect to the story only became apparent later on in the book, but it intrigued me. It’s not something that’s easy to wrap your head around and it demands quite a lot of imagination. I thought it was very imaginative and original and I loved finding out how everything really worked. It still remains very complicated and though that has it’s charm, it might take away some of the punch, the impact of the big reveal.

Our main character Dr. Judd is that kind of character I like to read about. Very flawed, with a life in tatters. Smart, but still baffled by what he encounters during his journey to find out more about Cannonbridge. There are a few secondary characters that didn’t really leave that much of an impression, but still kept the story going and most of the times also gave the main character the means or the incentive to go on with his investigation.

The very end is heart wrenching, but somehow I’d felt it coming. I’m a bit disappointed that it was this transparent; it could have really been a shocker to end the book with. It’s also interesting to think what this will do in the future to the main character, how he will cope with it. Interesting, but like I said, you could see it coming from miles away.

I ultimately really liked this book; the mystery was tangible throughout the entire book, only revealing the full extent of the scheme towards the end. I could never entirely guess what was going on and I absolutely love it when a book can keep me in the dark like that. It maybe has its flaws and it won’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed reading ‘Cannonbridge’ very much.

evewithanapple's review

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This book has three principles:

1. Capitalism is evil
2. Global capitalism is REALLY evil (in the most literal "IA IA WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION FHTAGN" way you can imagine.)
3. However, we can- possibly- defeat global Cthulhu capitalism with the power of LITERATURE.

This book panders to my interests so much, I can't actually tell you whether it's good or bad. I was just delighted.

dogtown's review

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bookforthought's review

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I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really didn't like this book, which makes me feel bad, because I really wanted to. That, and I hate writing negative reviews. I am NOT happy about this, people. But that may be the subject of another post. Someday. Maybe. For now, I'll just go on being unhappy about this situation.

So, anyways, back to the book. I went in thinking it would be a mystery/thriller about a literary hoax. Here I was, expecting a fast-paced, exciting journey across England as our insightful academic searches for clues to uncover the secret of Matthew Cannonbridge and how he got to be England's most famous author. Great story, right? Well, not quite. Turns out, there's a whole lot of supernatural forces involved in the creation of Cannonbridge. Now, I don't usually have a problem with the presence of supernatural elements in a story. In fact, most of the time, I quite like it. But in order for that to happen, I have to understand what is happening. With this book, I just went from confused to more confused. I just could not make sense of what was happening, and that really frustrated me. Of course, that may just be me, and someone else reading it could actually make sense of the whole thing much better than I did.

The characters were also very unrelatable and generally unlikeable. The story jumped back and forth between the modern day, where Toby Judd starts his investigation into Cannonbridge, and the past, where Cannonbridge himself goes on to meet a wide variety of important authors, like Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. I was actually quite intrigued by this idea, of seeing the hoax take place while at the same time following the present-day investigation. That was back when I thought this story revolved around a hoax. As the story progressed, I started to doubt the usefulness of this device, and actually became very annoyed with it at one point. My excitement at the idea that we would see Cannonbridge influence the greats of English literature just vanished, as I felt these chapters to read more like an endless parade of big names with almost no very little weight on the story. The characters' motivations, and even most of their actions, made very little sense to me, and I had a very hard time seeing where they were coming from.

Even though this wasn't a long book (less than 300 pages), I found it extremely difficult to go through with it. I actually considered DNFing at several points, but just kept going hoping that it would get better later on, or that it would have a wonderful conclusion that would just blow my mind. It didn't. I was left just as disappointed at the ending as I had been throughout the whole read. I was really sorry about this, because this book had so much potential. But, for me, it failed. It failed as a thriller and it failed as a supernatural. I wasn't thrilled at all! I was just bored for the most part, and confused for the rest. Now, I'm glad I finished it, and I'm ready to move on.

Originally posted on Book For Thought.

cheyenneb's review against another edition

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I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley. This book will be released on February 10, 2015.

The beginning of this book was a bit confusing yet extremely intriguing. About 30 pages in, I was very invested in it and although I wasn't quite sure if I understood everything that was happening, I was enjoying the story. As I read, though, this excitement flagged quite a bit. There was a lag in the story around the middle of the book that lasted for a while because I felt like I did not know what the characters were doing and where they were going. By the end of the book, I was extremely confused. I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone so I won't say any more but it was a little flat for me.

This book takes place in two different time periods, modern day and late 1900sI thought that the author did a great job of tailoring the writing style to the time period. When I was reading the parts of the book that took place in the past, It felt like I was reading something that was written in the past which enhanced my reading experience.

I love the references in this book to famous authors such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Bronte sisters. I just thought that this added a really fun element to the book. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. However, there was something in the way it was written or in the way plot unfolded that kept me from being completely sucked into the story. I felt like the author didn't really flesh out the ending of the book and it left me more confused than anything.

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margaretpinard's review against another edition

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I was very captivated by the premise and the glimpses into rewritten history. The author's style is engaging and humorous, knowledgeable and driven. But there were several choices to remain vague that did not contribute to the twist, and I think that left me feeling like it could have been better. I thought about it a while, and don't like the ending after all...not a lead in to a series! It's okay, but some descriptions of The Thing would have ben nice, and more denouement too. Gorgeous cover though!