Book No 22 (2014) : The View on the Way Down

The-view-on-the-way-downRebecca Wait’s debut work explores the impact of depression and suicide. Having suffered a nervous breakdown herself, the author felt compelled to try and make sense of her illness by writing about it: She explains in the Afterword that ‘The novel was born out of darkness, but also out of relief and joy’.

Kit, Jamie and Emma are siblings; their parents are Joe and Rose. Following Kit’s death, Jamie has left home to live in Sheffield, where he is working in a bookshop. The circumstances surrounding his estrangement from his family are gradually revealed throughout the narrative. Being the only child at home with Joe and Rose, coupled with the bullying she suffers at school and insecurities about her weight, cause 14 year-old Emma to run away from home. She seeks out Jamie, bringing about the beginning of a rapprochement between him and the rest of the family. But this is not a fairy-tale reunion, as Kit’s death continues to cast its long shadows over all their lives.

I have suffered from depression for most of my adult life and although the condition is largely well-controlled nowadays, in the past I’ve found myself standing on the edge of the abyss. For this reason, Kit’s turmoil did resonate with me at some level, as did Emma’s alienation from her peers. However, Emma was a most unconvincing 15-year old. As the (proud) mother of a teenage daughter of the same age, I am well aware of the language and pre-occupations of girls of that age. They don’t generally include milkshakes, or making board games. Emma came across as a 9/10 year old and totally unbelievable as a result.

Much has been made of the fact that Rebecca Wait is only 24 years old. I’m sorry to have to say that I think this shows. I found her characters to be somewhat lacking; their emotional depth could have been plumbed more deeply. For me, the book lacked profundity and the naïve style did little to shed light on its dark subject matter. Like a flat stone on a lake, The View on the Way Down merely skimmed across the surface.

skimming stone

Book No 17 (2014) : The Spinning Heart

spinning heart I make no secret of the fact that I have fabulous friends. For my birthday, four of my closest book buddies bought me an amazingly thoughtful present – a gift subscription for a local bookshop. Every month, the kind lady at the shop is going to send me a brand new book, chosen by her, taking into account my likes and dislikes etc. So there was a lot of emotional energy invested in my first book, which arrived at the start of April. It was ‘The Spinning Heart’ by Donal Ryan.

As the recession has hit Ireland, the lives of rural inhabitants have been severely affected. The novel tells some of their stories, through 21 separate chapters. Their language is direct; each writer speaks in the first person, straight to the reader. To start with their voices seem dissociated, but as the novella progresses (its only 160 pages long); you begin to understand the connections between the people. Structurally it’s a cleverly composed work. There is no doubt that this is a great book, especially as it’s a debut novel. It has received widespread critical acclaim and rave reviews.

So whilst I am able to acknowledge Ryan’s skill, I did not like the book. Given how much I wanted to like it, I did try really, really hard. It got better towards the middle and the ending, because there are some plot events which I wanted to see irelandconcluded. My main issue was that I couldn’t ‘hear’ the narrators’ voices. The work is largely written in authentic, Irish language: I know very few Irish people with strong accents have never visited the Emerald Isle and have next to no knowledge of its history or customs. Because of this, many of the subtleties and nuances of the vocabulary and narration were completely lost on me, as I struggled to get to grips with the bulk of the work. ‘Bayjasus’ doesn’t pack the same punch if you can’t hear someone shouting it!

I can’t really recommend this book, largely on the basis that I didn’t enjoy it. However, I hesitate to be too harsh as, judging by the reviews and plaudits heaped upon it, I’m in the woeful minority.

Must be a feckin’ eejit.