A review of Fin Rising by Paul W Newman

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Fin Rising
By Paul W Newman
Really Blue Books
253 pages, May 19, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-9873736-7-0

Each year the Comerford clan and close friends gather at the old Comerford estate for the annual attempt to catch King – a giant, near mythical rainbow trout.  The ‘clan’ includes Lord Henry Thomas Patrick Comerford, the man who guides and presides over it all, his children, the arrogant Roger and the wayward Lorelei, Jack, the disenfranchised American veteran, and Fintan (Fin) McGrath, son of Comerford’s caretaker Danny.

When Henry dies suddenly, the story begins to coalesce around his unusual and unexpected will. The group also includes Wallace, Henry’s faithful servant, Cook, Wallace’s wife, and Ned, Henry’s alcoholic lawyer and as the story develops, we begin to understand how interconnected these characters are.  As the characters each attempt to meet their conflicting desires and solve the mystery surrounding Henry, a delicious tension grows that drives the story along.

Fin Rising works as a rich psychological drama, using flashbacks and even a touch of anthropomorphism to get us deep into the hearts of these damaged characters.  Twenty nine year old Fin is particularly appealing as the main protagonist, and the book opens with him as a child at his mother’s funeral, emphasising his loss and vulnerability.  Newman gives him a higher level of observation than other characters and allows us to move seamlessly with him between present and past, observation and action:

A crow’s caw pulled Fin out of his reverie. He crested the hill. There below him, golden in the last rays of an autumn sun, the big house: Blackthorn Hall. Used to play roly-poly down this hill as kids, the three of them, arms pressed to the side and the chins tucked in. Race to the bottom, grass then sky, grass, sky, stand up with the world circling around you, giddy, the brain spinning like a top inside the smiling head. It was easier to be happy then.

Fin isn’t all sorrow though. He’s got a wicked sense of humour and the not-so-subtle way he gets antagonist Roger back for being obnoxious provides strong comic relief through the novel, as do the drunken hijinks of Ned, Roger, and occasionally Wallace.  There is also mystery as we try to work out why Henry changed his will, what he’s hiding, and who he’s hiding it from. Combined with the comedy, mystery and drama is a strong romance that underscores all of the action in the book.  Though this is a character driven book, and it’s the myriad of character arcs that drive the story (even the character arc of King), it is the rich descriptions of fishing – from the tying of the lures to the reeling in of a large catch that really underpins Fin Rising.  The title has a myriad of references, not least of which is the joy of seeing a fish fin coming up out of the water as a prize fish is reeled in:

A great shadow moved slowly beneath the fly. With the smallest of sips, the trout took it under. Roger could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the ripples where the little dun had been. He stayed cool and gave it a critical fraction of a second before he struck. He pulled hard on the line and hoisted the rod over his head. The rod tip juddered. There was weight, good weight on the line. He lifted into it and scrambled to his feet.

Though there is plenty of bad behaviour – most of it funny, the book is ultimately about healing and transformation. Fin Rising is the kind of novel that has something for everyone. It’s beautifully written, full of pathos and fun, and enough suspense to keep the reader fully engaged until the moving, and very satisfying conclusion.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks and Paul W Newman is her next guest. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.

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