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Posted: May 12, 2019

An out-of-the ballpark amazing first novel

Book Review

By Derryll White

Watt, Holly (2019). To the Lions.

Holly Watt pulls the reader into her story with a convincing presentation of how a large daily newspaper room looks (those that are still operating) and a window into the life and work of an investigative reporter. “The reporters themselves were scruffy, Grumpy: Dorian Gray paintings of their own byline photographs.”

Holly Watt does not write like this in ‘To the Lions’, her first novel. Her scenes are full and lush, her characters strong and principled. She takes the reader into the room, the clubs, the refugee camps – keeping it all very real. She suspends disbelief. She escorts the reader into different areas – power, intrigue, money manipulation – and always makes it believable.

Most notably, for me, Holly Watt maintains a strong, clear story line throughout the novel. The reader never gets the sense that she is throwing in extraneous chunks, neat little pieces that are cute and titillating but don’t really need to be there. The author is always charging full-tilt on toward the eventual story goal – always.

Watt plays with emotion, chilling the reader with the gross realities of what it is to be homo sapiens, and then elevating moods with what it is to struggle with love. There are realities here that the reader would perhaps rather not think about, but I found she grounded me in the far-reaching impacts of my everyday life, made me aware of some of the consequences. Many who read this book will afterward always think of refugees differently.

‘To the Lions’ is an extraordinary first novel – out-of-the ballpark amazing. She confronts the central issue of the 21st century – human greed and the refugee displacement that is the ultimate result of that greed. And her world-view is uncompromising.

Holly Watt has a fine future in front of her as a complex and fascinating author and thinker. When it is released by the publisher, read this book.


Excerpts from the novel:

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER – There as the statues fell and the crowds triumphed, or the earth shook and the bombs exploded.

Sydney, Baghdad, Cape Town, St. Petersburg.

“I go wherever there is something interesting happening,” she said once to a contact. “The extremes.”

And then she stopped, because how can you explain that if you are always there, flying in only when the joy is overwhelming and the colors are brightest and the grief is everything, how did you go back to every day?

REFUGEES – Two million refugees, three million, four….

There are no people running for their lives in the refugee camps. No explosions. The children aren’t starving. A refugee camp doesn’t look like a tragedy.

But it is. It is.

As they arrive, people hit pause on their lives. All these thousands of lives, all paused. Waiting for something. Waiting to live.

PSYCHOPATH/SOCIOPATH – “As far as they know, psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made. Psychopathy is nature; sociopathy is nurture. Sociopaths have hints of a conscience, but not much. Neither of them cares much for ethics and morality and all that. Psychopaths are manipulative and good at gaining people’s trust.”

REFUGEE CAMPS – Refugee camps are thrown together in a rush. They are designed to keep the cascade of humanity somewhere, anywhere, contained. And so they grow, a nightmare Babel. An overnight city.

MERCENARIES – “every time they fill up their car it’s because of us kicking the shit out of some fuckers out on the delta. When they take a call, they’re using tantalum, which comes from coltan, which comes from shitholes out in the DCR. When they’re down on their knees proposing to some stupid bitch, they’re using a blood diamond from God only knows where. And the girl’s special dress is stitched together by some child in Bangladesh. And when they do their line of coke to celebrate, well Christ knows what happens to get that to England.”

THE MIDDLE EAST – Once again it was a war that the West had started, without thinking about the end. As if this were a fire that could ever burn out. The tribes resurrected along these same ancient fault lines – the Arabs and the Berbers – the Tuareg and the Toubou. Dozens of fiefdoms and the Islamists moved fast to fill in the void.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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