I first heard about Memoirs of a Master Forger when the title appeared a few times while I was rounding up our ultimate best of 2008 list. The reviews were all extremely positive, so I decided to give it a go. Judging by its cover, I figured that MoaMF will be set, say, in 18th century, with elements of either steampunk or fantasy. Well … I was wrong. When they say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, they say it for a reason.
Memoirs of a Master Forger is a story of a man named William Heaney, whose name is also being used by the author of the book. He is a random person from 21st century and his life isn’t going exactly as he’d imagined. His wife left him for a TV chef, his son is growing up into a snobbish brat, his job is boring and the forgery his friend Stinx is working on is hardly going well – the latter because Stinx’s woman has just left him and despite it being the third time in a row, Stinx still seeks refuge in drink.
Will is not really the master forger mentioned in the title, although the memoirs are undoubtedly his. He is just the guy who sells forgeries when Stinx completes them. Ok, he does write poems for another friend, Jaz, but since they are, in his own words, really bad poetry, I don’t think it counts. Will’s main characteristics are donating money to a local homeless shelter and the ability to see demons, the latter obviously being enough to put this book under ‘fantasy’ section. The demons are only mentioned in an offhand manner, though, and are most probably just a metaphor for human suffering.
I guess this is the reason why I was pretty disappointed with Memoirs of a Master Forger. It’s got little to do with forgeries – the only forgery beside the really bad poetry is a Jane Austen first edition that seems like a minor, unimportant side plot and mostly just another thing that does not go as planned. It’s not about demons, either, even though there was some promise to that, but the narrative is simply not unreliable enough to be of intrigue.
The book follows a typical formula where the setting is a contemporary society and the main character is a random person with whom the reader can easily identify. He is not entirely average, though, because average is uninteresting and nobody wants to read about that. He has his flaws, but still clearly a nice guy. His life is not completely dull for the same reasons the protagonist is not entirely average. Whatever happens, be it good or bad, is just uncommon enough to be interesting but could easily happen to the reader as well. Following the formula, the ending can be either a happy one (reader: ‘oh, the world is a nice place after all’) or a somber one (reader: ‘huh, I shall reflect upon this’). I notice books follow this formula fairly often; it seems to be very popular in contemporary fiction, probably because the reader can easily picture himself in main character’s shoes. Aside from the obvious benefits, this also carries the ‘something extraordinary could happen to you as well’ message, which, I think, is something readers generally like. While this formula does not necessarily predicate a lack of writing skills (on the contrary – a skilled writer can, with a few variations, convert this formula into a very good novel) it can often lead to an otherwise mediocre novel becoming a success.
And, of course, Memoirs of a Master Forger has a happy ending where every wrong is righted and everything is just swell. There is no bitter aftertaste or feeling that it could all be undone any second now. The problems are all solved and the general feeling is that everyone will be happier from that point on. No fears, no doubts, just fields of shiny happiness. Blergh.
Don’t get me wrong, Memoirs of a Master Forger is a nice enough story written in a flowing style, but I really don’t see what’s so great about it. The forgery/demons bit is original enough, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the narrator could be a bit more unpredictable, the characters less generic and the plot more than just a path to happy ending. All in all – average.
I guess I'll never manage to do something on time, but late is still better than never. This review is a bit old, but I hope you'll enjoy it nevertheless :)
19 hours ago