There are two essential ingredients to a "Really Good Book", the story and the storyteller. In this context, a "Really Good Book" probably needs further definition, or at least description. It is not necessarily a work of fiction, although it is generally so. It grabs the imagination from the first line. It does not let go easily as the reader will always find it hard to put down. It has an obsessive quality in that the reader does not want it to finish.
The "Really Good Book" has its seductive side bringing the reader a hundred pages or so before he or she realises it and, once hooked by it, the love-struck victim can't do without it. He or she becomes totally lost in its embrace, forgoing all touch with reality such as the report that has to be on the boss's desk in the morning, or the dinner that needs cooking, the lawn that needs mowing or, in the most chronic of cases, the tap that is running. This, of course, is the main reason why the "Really Good Book" has been banned from the workplace. There is no telling the damage it can do when in full flight.
Fortunately, there are few "Really Good Books". There are lots of Good Books where either the story is good or the storyteller is good, or where both are present in unequal amounts. For "A Really Good Book", the storyteller and the story have to fuse in such a way that the reader can't tell where one starts and the other begins any more than one can differentiate between the singer and the song, the dancer and the dance, or indeed, the artist and the canvas.
A "Really Good Book" is elusive. What may be a prime candidate to Jack may have an indifferent interest for Jock and be totally abhorrent to Jill. On top of this the "Really Good Book" can change between readings. It can take its victim to the highest point of reading pleasure at one sitting and drop the same victim to the lowest depths of literary despair at the next.
The "Really Good Book" forces the reader's total "suspension of disbelief". The magic it weaves is so strong that the reader finds it impossible to believe that what he or she is reading is actually a fiction and not a fact. This feeling is so strong that the reader sometimes finds it difficult to re-adjust to the world he or she lives in, leaving them in something of a hazy vacuum which may have some of the effects of a mild hangover.
In fact, in the "Really Good Book" the reader will see himself or herself as both the storyteller and the story rolled into one. There will be an absolute sympathy and total identification with the hero or heroine and the readers will sometimes try hard to influence the outcome of the storyline or the pace of the narration themselves.
Some weeks ago, perusing the shelves of the shop, following some unknown impulse, I picked up a book I hadn't noticed before called "The Sixth Lamentation". Opening the first pages I found myself falling instantly (and willingly) into the trap. There was a magic flow to the words and the storyline certainly looked promising.
"The Sixth Lamentation" would probably not make it to the short list of the Booker Prize, but it does stand strong in the company of such storytellers as Alistair McLean or Ken Follett. Like all "Really Good Books", I was halfway through it before I wondered about its author. In fact, he is William Brodrick and this is his first book. He has a background as a monk and a barrister and this goes a long way to explain the calm confident narration.
The story is placed in Paris during World War II and in the England of the 1990s. In it our hero, who is a monk and was a barrister, unravels the mysteries that surrounded the betrayal of a group of people calling themselves the "Round Table" and who attempted to smuggle Jewish children from the Nazi terror. The permutations and the connotations are played out to the nth degree, but the author never loses touch with the central story. The ending may be a little melodramatic, but, at that stage, it didn't matter. For me, the damage was already done, I was totally hooked.
In the Book World, it is a recognised fact that the aspiration to finding a "Really Good Book" reaches its zenith in the weeks leading to Christmas. When the stress of the pre-Christmas rush is at its worst, this aspiration is often the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps a person going.
For those of us who like a "whopping good yarn", "The Sixth Lamentation" could be the "Really Good Book" of the year.