Robert Hough, KUDOS, reviews

 

ROBERT HOUGH

Dr. Brinkley’s Tower

 

Finalist, The Governor General's Fiction Award

Long List, The Scotia Bank Giller Prize

Globe & Mail Best Books of the Year

 

Brinkley is a larger-than-life character, oozing American entrepreneurial spirit in a way that is simultaneously entertaining and disgusting. Ironically, he's somewhat at the periphery of this novel, for Hough centers his work in the sleepy Mexican town of Corazón de la Fuente, where we meet the sweet and hapless Francisco Ramirez. He's besotted with Violeta Cruz, a village coquette, though Brinkley eventually seduces her away from Francisco by giving her a job at his radio station. He claims to see in her the makings of a seer, so he sets her up with her own radio show, where she tries to help callers with their personal problems. Along the way we meet a variety of small-town characters, like cantina owner Carlos Hernandez, who develops a problem with impotence; Madame Félix, owner of the local bordello, "The House of Gentlemanly Pleasures"; and Miguel Orozco, the mayor of Corazón de la Fuente, who senses Brinkley chipping away at his political power. Hough manages to take all of these characters beyond stereotypes and invest them with humanity and humor. — Kirkus (U.S)

 

Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will recognize a touch of his lyricism, but this book is firmly grounded in reality. At the core of the richly interwoven stories  is the search for the difference between false promise and real worth. Memorable historical fiction. — Booklist (U.S)

 

A wildly imaginative historical novel set in the Mexican border town of Corazón de la Fuente, with a nod to the shenanigans of a true-life con artist. — O Magazine

 

Hough's tone recalls Mark Twain in tall-tale mode, yet with a story shot through with threats and portents. — The Washington Post

 

The construction of Brinkley's massive radio transmitter provides the backdrop for Robert Hough's hilarious and penetrating fourth novel, Doctor Brinkley's Tower...Hough is a master storyteller, and he works here with a practiced hand to avoid stereotype and at the same time give a clear sense of the general problems engendered by the new influx of wealth into the impoverished town.  — Globe & Mail

 

Hough handles his characters and the developments of the narrative with a masterful, merciless aplomb. Beauty is balanced with violence, broad humour interweaves with heartbreak, all within a novel that is at once utterly realistic and unremittingly fantastic. Dr. Brinkley's Tower – both the radio tower and the novel – is a thing of wonder.

The Edmonton Journal

 

Hough's greatest skill is as an old-fashioned storyteller. Dr. Brinkley's Tower moves like an extremely well-oiled machine, juggling and nudging forward all kinds of subplots without ever drawing attention to the muscularity required to do so. The scene where a town-wide brawl breaks out in the wake of a misguided guess-how-many-gumballs contest brings a smile to my face, still… Not all novels need to put such a premium on storytelling, of course. But those that do would benefit from looking to Hough as an example of how to get the job done right.

— The National Post

 

One of Hough's strengths is his ability to transmit the feeling of being immersed in his character's culture, to bring to life the sounds and smells of another place and way of living, and he uses this to good effect here. The setting really comes alive with a multitude of small, finely observed details, which are so judiciously placed that they almost invisibly spin a web of believability, and by the end of the novel, when one of the characters is reflecting on a lifetime spent actually loving his isolated, barren home, the reader is completely convinced. Hough has substantial storytelling chops. –The Toronto Star

 

With ingenious characters and striking scenes, Hough reveals a love of Mexican culture and has crafted a story that convincingly illustrates the emotions of men and women confronted with the vulgarities that can arise with prosperity, and the felicity they find within tradition and the fellowship of friends and family. – FFWD, Calgary

 

The characters in this book are fantastic and the story is compelling. Hough does a fantastic job of imaging how prosperity comes to a town and changes people in a way many of us could never imagine.
— The Writers Trust of Canada

 

Dr. Brinkley's Tower  is a lush, beautiful novel about Mexico in the 1930s....Hough makes you cheer for the characters, and for their town, as they struggle against the compromises imposed by "progress." I especially love how relevant this story feels, even as I felt transported into the past. Above all, I fell in love with Corazon de la Fuente and with Francisco, Violeta, the mayor, at all their neighbours. — Literary Treats

 

Dr. Brinkley's Tower is a cautionary tale of human nature and imperialistic intent that masterfully juggles a handful of characters. The tower is just the catalyst, how each character evolves afterward, from the cantina and brothel owners to the humbled mayor, aging Casanova and town beauty is consuming.  —The Halifax Coast

 

With ingenious characters and striking scenes, Hough reveals a love of Mexican culture and has crafted a story that convincingly illustrates the emotions of men and women confronted with the vulgarities that can arise with prosperity, and the felicity they find within tradition and the fellowship of friends and family. — FFWD, Calgary

 

The characters in this book are fantastic and the story is compelling. Hough does a fantastic job of imaging how prosperity comes to a town and changes people in a way many of us could never imagine.
— The Writers Trust of Canada

 

Here is his reading on CBC As It Happens and his literary smackdown feature on CBC The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers.

 

 

 

The Culprits

 

Quill & Quire Cover of the Year

Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book

Nominated for The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Shortlisted for The Trillium Award

 

“Hough’s greatest accomplishment is in showing that love, in a world shrunken by technology, is bound up inextricably with war and terror, and that no one is completely innocent.” — The Gazette (Montreal)

 

“It is a testament to Robert Hough’s talent that the novel could as easily have been written by a Russian with both hard-won insights into his own culture and a surprisingly sharp eye for Canadian foibles. As it is, this exuberant, freshly detailed story of globalized love and disorder is a bravura performance, one part literary ventriloquism and one part ripping narrative …The novel has been constructed sentence by sentence, and is without so much as a single middling paragraph.”
— The Globe and Mail

 

“The Culprits will earn Hough comparisons to Dickens and Dostoyevsky.” — Winnipeg Free Press

 

“The Culprits is a beautiful if unusual love story, one that will captivate whether you are sitting at a park picnic bench or in the quiet of your own home. The kind of novel that I find only once in a while, it does what good literature should do - tell a story that is both moving and redeeming.” — The Sun Times (Owen Sound)

 

“Robert Hough does it again. The Culprits is the kind of novel I crave: it's serious and tragic without being maudlin or solemn, it's weird and wonderful without being unbelievable, and the story twists and turns like a carnival ride. Tough as hell and gritty as a downtown alley, it still manages to be romantic and it reads like a dream. Put other writers on notice: This is how it’s done. I loved it.” — Michel Basilieres

 

 

 

 

THE STOWAWAY

 

A Globe 100 Book

Nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award

 

“The Stowaway is a terrific contemporary sea story. It resonates with the great themes of maritime literature and reminds us that the sea is, even now, an arena of suffering and high courage and a crucible of moral choice. The story of murder, fear and redemption aboard the Maersk Dubai  comes vividly alive in this fine, compelling novel.” — Derek Lundy

 

“The Stowaway is an engrossing novelization…. Robert Hough, who demonstrated his considerable abilities with historical fiction in his award-winning first novel, The Final Confession of Mabel Stark, brings the story to life with meticulous, first-hand research and extensive interviews. He displays an impressive grasp of the architecture and machinations of the enormous ship, tangibly immersing the reader in the daily lives of its crew. More impressive still is Hough’s grasp of his characters’ cultural perspectives. The thoughts and actions of both Filipinos and Romanians are inseparable from the cultures in which they lived. Hough explores both with complete self-confidence as readers move seamlessly from the desperate, alcohol-soaked mind of a 19-year-old Romanian lost in the arms of a Gypsy to the conscience-stricken sobriety of a Filipino whose deeds are dictated by a love of God and dedication to his family…. This is a powerful novel that artfully combines the vivid, breathless pacing of the best adventure stories with the moral and metaphysical depth of the best literary fiction.”
Quill & Quire

 

“Robert Hough’s latest book mixes fiction and non-fiction to get at the truth … The Stowaway deals with a real-life adventure involving an epic journey and some well-considered heroics … similar to some of Norman Mailer’s work … It’s a story with real weight.” — Eye

 

“Carefully researched … A rare and powerful example of human decency triumphing over amoral self interest … The Stowaway takes us on a fascinating and instructive journey.” — National Post

 

“Hough’s detailed research is worthy of the best journalism. Fortunately, he never takes his eye off the story. The Stowaway moves forward from the very first page and never leaves the reader behind. The writing is clear and straightforward, laying bare the emotionally charged events and the reactions of the individual characters. Hough manages to give a clear view of the confines of the ship without stopping merely to describe something. This lifts his work above so much mediocre Canadian writing and gives his novel a clarity usually seen in the best naturalist novels. Its subject matter, the lives of the poor under their masters, gives it a moral force akin to Zola. The firmness of the narrative structure, two threads which meet and weave, and the lack of padding in either the plot or its sentences, give the novel an intense focus, as in Camus or Calvino. The inevitable meeting of the two stories only serves to ratchet up the suspense…. His great accomplishment is to have both revealed the dramatic narrative quality of factual reportage and seamlessly melded imaginative elements into a whole that is convincing. We don’t care which parts are “true” and we can’t see the seams. It’s all of one piece. Hough has beaten the risk of the sophomore slump and delivered a fine, strong second novel that’s both a social document and an absorbing read.”

Michel Basillieres, The Globe and Mail

 

“He weaves fact with fiction to craft a chilling ocean adventure.”
The Chronicle Herald (Halifax)

 

“Hough creates a rollicking adventure.” — Calgary Herald

 

“It’s a gripping yarn, a different kind of tale of good versus evil … Hough said he wanted to write an ‘adventure story.’ That’s an understatement.  It is really a thriller, a tale Alfred Hitchcock undoubtedly would have loved to turn into a creepy film.” — The Ottawa Citizen

 

“His interest in bold human characters and the fringes of human behavior has long pervaded his writing.”
The Kingston Whig-Standard

 

“[An] excellent second novel … chilling detail … [Hough] mak[es] readers feel the desperation and fear that the characters experience…. The Stowaway is highly entertaining, but it also leaves readers pondering important issues. How can people do their duty and still follow their conscience, and how can we protect people displaced by war and economic circumstance?” — The Examiner (Peterborough), The Kingston Whig-Standard, The Chronicle Herald (Halifax), The London Free Press

 

“The Stowaway is a remarkably compelling read.  Hough’s forward-moving narrative … never flags. Of course, we want to know the details of all these true-life events, and on these terms, The Stowaway delivers…. Kudos to Hough for telling an important true story in the only way the available facts allowed.” — Edmonton Journal

 

“A page-turner … Ultimately, it is in Hough’s editorial choices and fictive skill that The Stowaway succeeds where news stories do not. Thanks to a sharply honed novelist’s eye, we see fully developed characters here, not merely the components of current affairs.” – The Winnipeg Free Press

 

“The story is compelling, but it is in the version of the story that Hough has chosen to emphasize – the fleshing out of character relationships, and the manner in which he structures the novel – that moves it beyond a simple retelling of events to a work filled with suspense, excruciating choices, and tragic ends…. Hough’s choices create a gripping and empathetic tale.” — The Calgary Herald

 

“This is one of those rare treats – a novel based on a true event that the writer thankfully keeps unvarnished and unadorned, and is all the more starkly powerful for that…. Hough’s unaffected prose keeps the plot steaming full ahead. Hough shows strength in research: his passages detailing Daniel’s European trek, the life and work aboard the ship, the descriptions of the ports the Maersk Dubai visited are captivating…. [a] superb work.” — The Hamilton Spectator

 

“Hough manages to embrace the facts of the tragedy and at the same time move beyond them with an ease that is almost dizzying.”
The Vancouver Sun

 

 

 

 

The Final Confession of Mabel Stark

 

Shortlisted for
The Commonwealth Writer’s Prize

Shortlisted for The Trillium Award

 

“…this is one of the most enjoyable and involving first novels that I have read in years.  It has a heroine of uncommon appeal whose hard-knock life brings her joy and despair in about equal portions but never conquers her strength and spirit.  Not only that, but it’s about tigers… And hell, Mabel Stark is the first heroine I’ve fallen in love with for a long time.”
— Cary Fagan, The Gazette

 

“First novelist Roberty Hough pulls together fact and fiction to unfurl a life that invites sheer, slack-jawed fascination.  High brings this fiery, bawdy and wildly courageous perfomer vividly and intimately to life and in the process narrates a life story too unbelievable to be anything but true…In this book, [Hough] has created one of the most remarkablem sympathetic and finely rendered characters I have come across anywhere.  He gives Stark a distinctive, believable first-person voice with the earthy, no-nonsense attitude one cold expect only from a woman who had spent her life criss-crossing the continent in the company of freaks, grifters, thieves and wild animals…No one’s life story – not even Mabel Stark’s – could be so compelling without the deft hand of a pretty great writer, Robert Hough is himself a very impressive act.” — Lynn Coady, Time

 

 “Never flagging, the compelling story thunders along like a runaway circus train bearing a dangerous cargo of painful memory, wild animals, grotesque characters and outlandish stories, told through the distinctive, often humorous voice Hough creates for his protagonist.”

 — Loranne Brown, Globe and Mail

 

 “The frame story, of an octogenarian Stark in danger of losing her job at the Jungle Land wildlife park, is reminiscent of both The Stone Angel and The Stone Diaries.”

Vancouver Sun

 

“This … completely compelling fictional autobiography is a definite must-have for anyone who grew up, like me, wanting to run away with the “normal people” in the circus.”

Colum Begley, Globebooks.com

 

“A marvelous debut…about the life and amazing adventures of the greatest female tiger trainer in circus history are narrated with delicious humor and warmth….Just about perfect. One of the most entertaining novels in many a year.” — Kirkus, starred review

 

“Utterly captivating and thrilling….A book to be pressed into the hands of customers.”

The Bookseller (UK)

 

“Ribald, rough-hewn … this graphic slangy fictional reminiscence also offers some surprising, deft metafictional touches.”
Publishers Weekly

 

“Hough’s energetic writing brings bitter-sweet memories spilling off the page with all the cheeky theatricality of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, and at times approaches the literary magic of Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang. The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is made in a voice so compelling that fact and fiction cease to mean much….And happily for [Hough], and the memory of Mabel Stark, this book has teeth. — The Times UK

 

“From the sketchy facts of Stark’s extraordinary life Robert Hough has conjured up an action-packed fake autobiography as jaunty and acerbic as the lady herself…. Hough’s Mabel may be mostly invention, but she’s a fiction who tells it straight. It’s a clever conceit, structuring the book around a testy, superannuated confessee: the story steams along like a Ringling train, fuelled by Mabel’s self-obsession, unsolicited advice and wry perspective….It’s impossible not to warm to Hough’s plucky, masochistic adventuress, fleeing the wraiths of insanity across every state in the Union; she’s the sanest nutter the confession bug ever bit.” — The Observer

 

“Robert Hough’s first novel has the same sense of fun and expanse as those of the late Robertson Davies. This masterful book is the complete package: great storytelling, a keen eye for detail, delightful turns of phrase, and a sense of humor and timing…. one of the most deliciously improbable stories ever told.” — USA Today

 

 

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© Robert Hough 2015