Friday, 28 August 2015

Finding Home; Real Stories of Migrant Britain, by Emily Dugan

This morning (28/08/2015) the first two stories in the news were the following:
1) That a refrigerated lorry found abandoned in a layby on the Austria/Hungary border contained the partially decomposed bodies of at least 70 'migrants'.
2) That two boats have sunk off the coast of Libya, which combined, are thought to have been carrying up to 500 people escaping Bangladesh, Libya and various sub-Saharan African countries.

What's even worse is that barely a week goes by without several headlines like this. Migration, immigration, illegal immigration, asylum seeking, whatever you want to call it, whatever terms news outlets are using the dehumanise and scaremonger, this book is a welcome, truthful and unflinching look at the lives of the people that are trying desperately to find a safe and secure place to live their lives.

Finding Home looks at the unique stories of 10 individuals- something which in itself is unusual. Every day we're presented with images and footage of teeming masses of people, crowds scrambling over razor wire, desolate canvas ghettoes full of women and kids, masses of heads and shoulders poking out of the top of a boat that looks like its most buoyant days are behind it- we rarely look at the individuals. We never really get to find out what's brought these people to this point? What are they escaping and what do they hope to find? Has anybody asked? We're told benefits and an easy life, but that's really, really not the case with most. It's not always war, it's not always work, it's not always a choice. What I love about this book is that it makes individuals out of that teeming mass, the 'Plague of migrants' that our media condemns as work-shy scroungers and criminals, it presents them as humans. It's unflinching in its honesty and it really makes the reader think about what they'd do in these people's shoes.

Journalist Emily Dugan features stories from the following people, creating portraits of individual people who are all struggling against different obstacles to call Britain their home.

  • Ummad, a student at Sunderland Uni from a wealthy business family in Pakistan. The branch of Islam followed be he and his family is considered heretical in Pakistan, and his family are in constant danger because of this.
  • Harley, an Australian children's psychologist and NHS expert with 10+ years of service, facing deportation after the breakdown of her marriage to a European.
  • Clive, a homeless Zimbabwean that entered the UK illegally and has spent the last 6 years trying to go home. His lack of passport makes this impossible. He can neither work, nor recieve citizenship either. He is stateless.
  • Physiotherapist Hristina, leaving behind her baby in her beloved home country of Bulgaria, came to the UK with her husband in order to be able to provide a better life for her family, as low wages and high living costs make this impossible in Bulgaria. She misses home and her family every day.
  • Syrian refugee Emad is a political exile due to his setting up the Free Syrian League. Though now having refugee status, he previously worked illegally to fund his mother's visa-less passage out of Turkey into the EU. She was also in danger due to her son's infamy but getting into Britain is just the beginning of the battle.
  • Sai is a Thai woman married to an older Glaswegian man. Even Harry, her Scottish husband thinks he would fail the UK citizenship test.
  • Hassiba came from Algeria to be with her Husband who had settled in the UK. A promising geneticist, the only work she can find in the UK is mopping the floor of a kebab shop. She is unenamoured with Britain, struggling to cope with the racism, grim weather, lack of opportunities and the drug culture of her estate.
  • Aderonke, a prominent LGBT campaigner from Manchester who would've been murdered for her sexuality in her home country of Nigeria. The Home Office did not believe she was A) gay, or B) in any danger if deported.
There are also two more general case studies, one looking at the town of boson in Lincolnshire, an example of thoroughly mismanaged immigration, resentment by locals of the town's Eastern European reinvention and botched integration, and a trip on a coach from Romania to London on the day the Romania/Bulgaria workers' restrictions were lifted. 

It's hard to summarise these stories, but I just wanted to give an idea of the range of reasons that people leave their homes, families and lives, and the range of reasons that take them where they end up. Ummad and Emad in particular have harrowing histories- both just want an education and to be able to live by their own conscience and moral compasses, but dominant ideologies in their home countries make refugees of them, and make tragic messes of their families.

This book is honest and so eye-opening. I don't know whether it made me feel grateful for living in a (comparatively) liberal and secure society, or enraged at the way our government treats anybody who didn't have the foresight to be born within the UK's borders. I couldn't decide if Britain was a safe haven, and pleased that it was such, or a nightmare of bureaucracy, arbitrary rules, underfunded departments struggling to process paperwork, judgement and persecution. Each of the stories was so different, experiences so varied that it was impossible to decide. The Home Office are sometimes the saviours, sometimes the villains. That idea of duality cropped up a lot- the idea of being a bit of both. Two nationalities blended together, or both, or neither. Polish dad Karol watched an England vs Poland football match wearing a Poland shirt and an England scarf. It must be a huge blow to the identity to find yourself living overseas.

I liked the book's thoroughly level headed approach to its subject. It doesn't make all 'migrants' out to be glorious saints, toiling hard at the jobs that the British turn their noses up at- it does not omit any jail time its subjects might have served, addictions, any debt that they are in, any mistakes or bad decisions they have made are presented as honestly as any triumphs they have achieved. It does, however, show the resilience and determination of people that are often persecuted or judged for simply living somewhere else. Despite the isolation, depression, separation, trauma and everything else that many of these individuals had escaped, I had to admire their attempts to start again.

This book couldn't be more important. Or more topical, or more timely. Every person that has ever rolled their eyes at a Polski Sklep on the empty end of their high street needs to read this. Every person who has ever uttered the phrase 'Go Back to Your Own Country' needs to read this. Everybody that has ever complained about delays on the Eurotunnel needs to read this. If you're a person with an ounce of empathy, you need to read this. I will be recommending this book whenever I get UKIPped, whenever the topic of immigration comes up and whenever anybody asks me for a good non fiction.

Thankyou to Stevie Finegan (@SableCaught) for bringing this book to my attention, and for sending me a copy.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagen

I've had this book since the Booker Shortlist was announced in 2014, so almost exactly a year, and having read 4 of 6, this was one of the ones that I just sort of...never got around to. To be honest, I was inexplicably uninterested in reading it- possibly for its immensely boring cover, possibly because of its POW themes...possibly because my knowledge of Japan is non-existent and I thought I'd be uninterested in it. Anyway, it was chosen as a monthly read by my bookclub and my internal thoughts were "Urgh...well, at least you already have a copy". I can't believe how stupid last-month me was.

The narrative starts in a sort of hazy dream, but settles down to reveal an aged Dorrigo Evans and his sleepy thoughts alighting on his childhood on the island of Tasmania, school, various unimportant conversations he remembers and on Amy- a woman we will later learn was his Uncle's wife with whom Dorrigo had a short but intense affair; a woman with whom he shared an almost supernatural connection. We learn that elderly Dorrigo, a curmudgeonly, womanising drunk, is now considered something of a celebrity, a nationally celebrated war hero and aged but leading figure in the medical world. The story jumps between the modern day, Dorrigo's time as a POW, his post-war experiences and, briefly, the post-war experiences of some of the Japanese and Korean army personnel and guards. The latter is an interesting perspective, as the defeated forces try to justify and defend their war time actions as inevitable, commendable even.

The book is a harrowing story about allied prisoners of war slaving on the deadly Siam-Burma railway. 12,621 Allied POWs died during the construction of the line, and as many as 90,000 local labourers. The Pacific campaigns of the Second World War remain more obscure than their Western equivalents. Everybody has heard of the Battle of Britain and the Normandy Landings and Stalingraad, but the Pacific War seems forgotten- my history isn't the best, but I couldn't say how Japan even ended up in WWII. The Narrow Road to the Deep North chronicles the life of Dorrigo Evans, a promising surgeon turned soldier that finds himself trying to work miracles out in the unceasing rain and mud of the Pacific jungles after he is captured. With no food, no medicine and no equipment, treating the prisoners for a tropical diseases full house of cholera, dissentry, malaria, malnutrition, ulcers, starvation, exhaustion, beri-beri is next to impossible. Although, British and American engineers had declared the notion of a railway in the locality impossible too, and that seems to be happening sure enough...As the most senior ranking allied officer, it also falls to him to lead the men, preserving their spirits as best he can and keeping them together. Though considered a great hero, leader and remarkable man by his troops, Dorrigo fails to find leadership qualities in himself, acting the part he believes people expect of him. He watches his friends and colleagues waste away and die in the most horrific conditions, knowing that there is nothing that he can do.

Conditions in the POW are hellish, and the treatment that the men are subjected to at the hands of the notoriously cruel Japanese Imperial Army is barbaric. Out of the thousands of prisoners that pass through the camp, most arrive severely ill or dying. Those that arrive fit and healthy slowly succumb to jungle maladies due to the poor hygiene, bad diet and sustained physical exhaustion. Forced to work 12 hour days, sometimes nights, with blunt hand tools and manpower alone, on little sleep and next to no food, the Japanese engineers demand faster work, quicker progress, despite the ever dwindling number of men and their rapidly deteriorating physical condition. Most die. The author really captures the unending toil and the impossibility of the task and the scale of the suffering. as the death toll spirals and men start to die faster than the remaining prisoners can burn them.

Flanagan's prose is simply beautiful. It's rich and full of grace, and some of the lines sing at you. Sometimes they sing of horror and death and everything that's awful in life, but the words sing. The imagery is gorgeous, and some of Flanagan's turns of phrase are so arresting that you go back and read the same line three times; I love how he conveys the sounds and humid heat of Tasmaia, the sea breezes and secluded hotel rooms of Adelaide...and less beautiful but no less sensory, the hellish, mudslide horror of the Burmese jungles, the stench of disease and the pain of survival. It's an emotional whirlwind of love and loss, duty and performance and a sensory explosion.

The cast of prisoners that populated the camp was brilliantly crafted, each of them, with enough personality to feel like a blow when they died. Individuality amongst prisoners feels life defiance and by creating such characterful inmates, it kind of felt like they rebelled against the anonymity pressed on them by the oppressive mud and the regime of the Japanese. The names are brilliantly Australian; Darky Gardiner, Sheephead Morton, Rooster MacNeice, Bonox Baker, Lizard Brancusi, I really liked Dorrigo too, flawed as he is. Despite his infidelity, his lies and his detached and manipulative personality in later life, he is always aware of his faults. He berates himself for not being a leader, for losing men, for failing to stop them dying. In reality he does all he can (that amputation scene will probably haunt me forever) and it's the guilt of survival that he feels- he just uses that pain to hurt those around him. I liked the strength he showed as POW and how his refusal to succumb to the Japanese brought some sense of comfort and rebellion to the prisoners. It's sad that he lacked purpose so much after the war- drifting into a loveless marriage and too unsure or too conventional to pursue the things that would've made him happy. He really shows how thoroughly war ruins a generation, that coming back in one piece is just the beginning.

The book sweeps the reader along so there is no time to dwell on the swirling and intertwined themes of guilt, all the different kinds of love, the conflict of being a good man and a terrible man all at once, the price of survival, family, legacy, what it means to be a hero. There's so much going on in this novel, and it's all tied up in a gripping and harrowing story about survival and dealing with what comes after it. I liked that Dorrigo hates being a hero, hates humility and praise. I suppose what he really feels is guilt- because it was luck and hope that let him get old enough to grow to hate heroics, not anything more than that. I found the final blow near the end to be affecting and quite emotional (even if it borders on the side of improbability).

So, in conclusion, I can't believe I waited so long to read this. I found it to be an incredible read; a harrowing but beautifully told story of the horrors of war and the consequences that live with soldiers for decades, the hangovers that last for generations after conflict. I'm so glad it got chosen as a Book Club read, or I might have dismissed it forever.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Ecliptic, by Benjamin Wood

The Ecliptic begins at Portmantle, a sort of  island reserve off the coast of Istanbul. A refuge from the ritual of real life, it's a mysteriously secluded retreat for artists of all kinds; they go to Portmantle for space, solitude and absence from the world, to find the time and the inspiration to work on their projects. Some stay for weeks, some for years, some longer. The narrator, Knell (aka the artist Elspeth Conroy, aka Ellie) and an assortment of her friends and fellow long-timers, are awaiting the arrival of Fullerton- a mysterious new resident that at the age of 17, is the youngest ever visitor to the complex.

Aloof but needy, mysterious and damaged, Knell tries to reach out to Fullerton. Her curiosity about the boy leads to clashes with the slick and ever so slightly creepy Provost, the custodian of Portmantle. The author takes us back trough Knells former life as Elspeth Conroy to throw some light on the links that draw her to Fullerton and the complicated relationship she has with her own memory and her hazy past.

The book then switches to the narrative of Elspeth Conroy as a rising artist- her apprenticeship to artist Jim Culvers, her successful gallery shows and a disastrous transatlantic crossing. She becomes successful. Too successful. More successful than her work merits, by Elspeth's own conviction. We find out, piece by piece, who Knell was before she began her long residence at Portmantle, her obsessions, her integrity and her attempts to harness the inspiration when it comes along, despairing when it deserts her. She leads a life so lacking in clarity; that is what she is truly looking for.

I loved the dual narrative of the book, and how each of the settings was so well crafted that the reader never favours one over the other. The story begins at the artists' retreat, which is fascinating in its purpose, its isolation and its residents. When it switches to uncovering Ellie's past, that narrative is equally absorbing. I never found myself impatient to return to the present, or restless, once at the retreat, to find answers in the back story. The two narratives wove together brilliantly, in ways that were both compelling and fascinating, culminating in a spectacular twist. The ending sends the reader reeling, wondering where memory becomes imagination and what role mental health plays in the creative process. In both the Turkish and New York/Scotland/London settings, the book doesn't assume creativity as an obvious and direct result of mental health issues, or vice versa, but it sort of wonders if the two things might possibly be linked somewhere, however tangibly, along the line.

The Ecliptic is such a masterful book, with some of the most beautiful prose I've read this year. I loved the questions it asks about art and inspiration, and the curse of the creative- to be torn between a need to produce, and a need to produce with integrity and vision. It's almost like creativity is an elusive but powerful animal, capable of great violence and beauty. Ellie, in her life away from the reserve goes through fevered fits of painting, but retains this desperate need to do justice to an artistic vision seen only with the mind's eye- that difficulty of translating the imaginary into images is depicted staggeringly well. I kept re-reading some lines, because the images they conjured were just so striking. Ellie's furious workshop scenes and obsessive perfectionism reminded me of Alasdair Grey's Lanark, where (also Scottish) Duncan Thaw spends years refining and delicately re-working a religious mural. I think that book will stay lodged in my head forever. Reading The Ecliptic, I was struck by the notion that artists are slaves to their creativity with a clarity that I've not experienced before.

The author asks what is creativity? Where does this drive to create come from? Is the artist a channel for a divine, spontaneous inspiration? Or is creativity fostered and honed? Does a creator search for inspiration or does it strike them? For me, everything about this novel was impressive- the detailed personalities of the supporting characters, the oddly old-fashioned voice of the narrator, the gripping but periodically baffling plot, the ambitious themes and beautiful, beautiful prose. I loved it. Singularly impressive and thoroughly enriching. I was captivated.

I honestly, honestly cannot recommend this enough.

Friday, 7 August 2015


  1. I am a qualified librarian and read about 2 books a week.
  2. I like lists, hence this list.
  3. I have a library in my house, which I love to bits.
  4. My Harry Potter obsession consumes my life. If Harry Potter trivia was an Olympic event, I'd like to think I'd make team GB.
  5. I used to have pet chickens and hope to do so again one day. They were called Jesse and Kestrel.
  6. I take a size 9.5 shoe. Which is hard when you're a) female and b) not a million years old therefore have strong 'NO' feelings about velcro.
  7. I have moved house once in my life.
  8. When I was little I loved dinosaurs, Meccano and Thunderbirds. And Famous Five books.
  9. Me and my sister amassed a depressingly massive Beanie Baby collection in the 1990s. Ooooh yeah.
  10. If I see clothing with prints of birds or woodland animals, I will buy it.
  11. I once wrote off a car and got a speeding ticket on the same day. Within hours of each other.
  12. I used to dye the front half of my hair purple until it started going crispy and falling out.
  13. There are no words to describe my hatred of physical activity.
  14. I burn instantly if I go outside in summer.
  15. I get instantly bitten to death by midges if I go outside in summer. Or near a canal.
  16. I know all of the words to all three Indiana Jones films. You will notice that this franchise remains a trilogy.
  17. I'm a secret twitcher and can probably identify 95% of the UK's bird species. Ooooooooh get that.
  18. I keep buying A line and circle skirts even though I know they look terrible on me and I won't wear them.
  19. I LOVE London's Natural History Museum and go on a pilgrimage there at least once every 3 years.
  20. Same with the Harry Potter Studio tour, only that's an annual thing. Yaaaaay M25!
  21. I'm from the Midlands...which is Southerners think is North and Northerners think is South.
  22. I like watching cycling, but no way on Earth will I voluntarily get on a bike.
  23. I wish I was Belgian, because it's the coolest, most surreal and weirdly modest country in the world. Also, chocolate and beer.
  24. I got my lip pierced when I was 18 and have somehow managed 9 years of subsequent employment without it ever being alluded to *fingers crossed*
  25. I have 1 younger sister who is so annoyingly skinny, she looks like a bit that dropped off me.
  26. I'm a vegetarian, and take it proper seriously.
  27. On a related note, I have never eaten a prawn, a kebab, a steak, a mussel or ribs.
  28. On an also related note, I miss bacon, marshmallows and Haribo.
  29. But I do bloody love curry and would eat it every day if my cooking style was less "Why is there sauce on the ceiling?"
  30. I like autumn and winter better than spring and summer.
  31. I'm a card-carrying Ravenclaw.
  32. I hate the sound of my own voice on video recordings and can't understand why anybody else in the world can stand to hear me speak.
  33. My attempts at baking are hilarious, and only ever revived when GBBO is on telly.
  34. I love GBBO and it's probably the only TV show I will voluntarily watch on actual TV.
  35. The 3rd series of Sherlock was the most disappointing thing that ever happened to me.
  36. I've been a bridesmaid twice, twenty years apart. It was much easier to get shoes the first time.
  37. Pixar films are the only films that give me feels. I'm an emotionless stone.
  38. I don't wear make-up because I've never really worked out what to do with most products, despite their instructive names.
  39. I keep diaries on all the books I read, and carry them around with me pretty much at all times.
  40. My Patronus is definitely a sloth. I can just imagine it lazily swiping at Dementors than nodding off.
  41. I'm 5ft11 and have a horrible slouch in an attempt to not be 5ft11.
  42. When I was 18 I went on the Weakest Link and came 4th. I wasn't the weakest link when I got voted off  #Tactics
  43. My most long-term favourite band is Radiohead and I've never seen them, which makes me sad. I have however managed to see New Found Glory 8 times, and I never even liked them.
  44. My favourite guilty pleasure films are Face/Off, National Treasure and Air Force One. I will also watch Independence Day whenever it is on ITV2. Because how can you not?
  45. I have frequent daydreams about disappearing to live in a log cabin in the woods and growing my own vegetables and weaving my own cloth.
  46. For this reason I find post-apocalyptic fiction both appealing and instructive.
  47. My big toes don't bend. I'm not sure why.
  48. I have never in my life danced or sang any kind of Kareoke. I intend to keep it this way.
  49. I don't like beaches. At all.
  50. This is the first blog tag thing I've ever done.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Concentr8®, by William Sutcliffe

Set in a future London, Concentr8 is a prescription drug intended to help kids with ADD and ADHD. Once teachers recommend which troublesome, unfocused or overly-active kids should be put forward for the programme, 95% of those suggested are on the drug. Soon the ADHD epidemic becomes quite manageable with these behaviour altering medicines. It prevents downward spirals into crime, suppresses excessive energy, makes them more manageable and less prone to violent or aggressive behaviour. The attached disability living allowance directed to parents makes things easier too. Better for teachers, better for parents and better for society as a whole, right?

Overnight, funding for Concentr8 is slashed and the drug is withdrawn. Rioting, looting and disorder ensues, as a nation of violent criminals revert to their feral state, tearing the capital apart. This violence is not really the focus of the book, but the smokescreen which allows the plot to unfold. Amidst the chaos of the summer riots Troy, Femi, Lee, Karen and Blaze, kids who have been on Concentr8 for longer than they can remember, kidnap a nameless, faceless office worker from the mayor's office and abduct him, chaining him to a radiator in an abandoned warehouse. What starts off as a spur of the moment laugh, something they do because they can, turns into a media frenzy that there's no walking away from. A tense five days follow, as the teens struggle to realise what they have done- no demands, no motivation and no idea what's going to happen to them now.

The narrative jumps around as each of the teen characters takes their turn as narrator. We come to understand why they're angry (even if they don't see it themselves) and they gradually reveal their thoughts and anxieties. Each of the kidnappers had a unique voice and outlook- they worried about the same things in very different ways. The narrative style of the teens is very colloquial, which won't be to all readers' tastes, but here I thought it was used very effectively. It gets across that these kids are at the bottom of the social pile. No ambition, no hope, no role models, little education and no future. I found the alternating perspectives to be really insightful, and I really liked how the narrator would switch between the teen voices, then change to one of the adults; the floppy haired, power thirsty Mayor, a journalist investigating the policy surrounding the drug's introduction and withdrawal, occasionally the hostage and infrequently but hilariously the police hostage negotiator, who is simply an idiot. As the reader pieces together the fragments uncovered by the journalists, and through the snippets of books, journal articles, tweets and testimonies that begin every chapter, we start to see what the sinister motivation and rationale is for the widespread prescription of Concentr8. It really gives a heist narrative a political thriller edge. 

I liked that this book tackled a different mental health problem- depression and OCD are increasingly prevalent in YA fiction, so I found this topic to be of immense interest. I don't believe the novel was too hung up on presenting accurate portrayals of ADHD, but instead focused on the difficulty of diagnosing and treating such invisible, complicated and varying mental conditions. It asks is medication always the answer? Especially when you consider how difficult it is, naturally, to diagnose mental illness? This was at the heart of the story really, how easy it is to write off bad behaviour and social problems as mental disorders. Over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis misrepresents mental illness but to explain away deep-lying social problems as mental insufficiencies is an arrogance and an injustice that it's all too easy to imagine Westminster stooping to. The book also opens up the always fascinating debate about nature versus nurture. What is the underlying cause of mental health problems? Is it part of out genetic make-up? Are we born predisposed to metal illness? Is the clock ticking down the moment we're born? Or is it a result of environmental and social factors?  The politicians of Concentr8 don't really care, they just slap on the same label and medicate the social problems away.

I found this to be a compelling and thought provoking book that looks at the shadowy relationship between politicians & policy makers and the corporations or individuals that benefit financially from the effects of the policies they make and enforce. It asks interesting questions about the way that society is manipulated and managed, how we label people, particularly  children, and how between the media and the government, we really have no idea what's going on, what the real problems are or who to blame.

If you liked this book, look out for  these:

The Hit by Melvin Burgess- another smart, tense YA read. Explores social collapse, youth drug use and the search for the ultimate high at the ultimate price.

Nobody Saw No One, by Steve Tasane- if the colloquial dialogue added to your understanding of the characters, try this. An updated Oliver Twist, but set in the 21st century wake of Operation Yew Tree. The book looks at how the rich and powerful can satisfy their perversions and buy silence and anonymity.

If you're feeling brave and don't care who knows it, go for Brave New World, by Aldus Huxley the original drug-based utopia, where society is so afraid of its own feelings and emotions that everyone collectively blocks them out using Soma, a drug designed to induce utopia.

Thanks to @LizzSkelly for the copy :)

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Summer of Secrets, by Sarah Jasmon

Taking place in the summer of 1983, The Summer of Secrets is told from the perspective of Helen, a lonely and awkward 16 year old. Stuck at home with her shabby and uncommunicative father, Helen is not exactly looking forward to a summer of isolation and boredom.

Things start to look up for Helen when the Dovers move in to the tumbledown cottages down by the canal. Mysterious and bohemian, the Dover offspring Seth, twins Will and Pippa and the enigmatic Victoria have free run of the place as dreamy, unfocused Alice, their beautiful mother, spends most of her time asleep. Their carefree attitude and disregard for life's rules has an intoxicating effect on Helen. She and Victoria become inseparable, the outgoing and daring Victoria seeming all the more luminous and enthralling next to the cautious and authority fearing Helen.

Helen's summer of companionship and adventure ends suddenly on the night that her father launches his lifetime's work; his hand-built boat, finished with the help and expertise of Piet, the Dovers' uncle. Helen awakes from a smoky and hazy stupor to find that the Dovers have simply disappeared, and nobody will tell her anything about what happened. She spends the next 30 years wondering what happened that night and retreating more and more into her own mental collapse, cutting herself off from her family and living a lonely existence of lingering guilt and uncertainty. She dwells on her lack of recollection of the night that everything ended. 

Helen and Victoria's relationship was very interesting. What seems initially to be a friendship version of a summer fling is, upon closer inspection, a little more complicated. Helen was incredibly possessive and quick to get jealous, always dreading the end of the summer when the flighty Dovers would move on to their next location. She was very hung up on the inevitable end of the friendship to the point where some days she struggled to be present in it. But at the same time, she had a crippling inferiority complex, constantly convinced that Victoria was bored of her, or only using her to pass the time. She would have moments of rebellion where she would attempt to teach Victoria a lesson by skipping her company for a day, boring herself and going stir crazy in the process. Victoria rarely notices her absence. She herself has some deeply troubling aspects to her personality- she reminded me a little of a manipulative and abusive partner. One that undermines their weaker half so skilfully and so subtly that they don't notice...making critical suggestions veiled as constructive advice, planting seeds of doubt and self hatred then dismissing fears or insecurities as nonsense. Dishing out rewards of kindness and punishments of emotional cruelty. It seemed a very damaging and toxic relationship to me, one that Helen seemed to have become almost addicted to.

I found the prose to be easygoing, and the third person narration worked well too. Helen doesn't tell her own story, but the reader sort of witnesses events looking over her shoulder. I really liked the tone of the prose, it always felt like the narrator was holding something back- it reminded me a little bit of E Lockhart's We Were Liars, because it feels like the truth is out there, swimming on the edges of your understanding, but a little bit out of focus and just out of reach. It was that intrigue that kept me reading, despite my lack of empathy for either of the main characters.

The endless summer hijinks- the messing about on the tow-path and half-heartedly reading classic novels seemed fairly straightforward and reasonably secret-free, so I became convinced for a while that Helen was either schizophrenic or delusional and had invented the Dovers. Though the tension was being gradually built throughout the course of the pair's relationship, personally I thought the pace was a bit hit and miss- I know it's evocative of the endlessness of teen summers, but I got a bit frustrated. The novel builds up and up over the course of almost 250 pages, then there's the unfathomable amnesic version of the tragic event, the culmination of the story. Then the big reveal and the aftermath were over and done with very quickly before the book came to an abrupt end. I felt a little that just as the book was gathering pace, it was all over.

I can see this book being a brilliant summer read for lots of readers, and I think lots of people will be able to identify with Helen- her loneliness, her being slowly manipulated into making bad decisions. I think lots of people have had a friend in the past that meant a lot to them that they drifted away from, or were severed from, and that's a powerful thing. It's tense, it's atmospheric and incredibly evocative in that pivotal summer, coming of age way and the sun soaked haze of the story is very appealing, until it takes a somewhat inevitable turn for the tragic.