Thursday, 5 February 2009

Black Boxes - Caroline Smailes


H'ok. So, for the "official" bit...

"Julie Myerson meets Ian McEwan in this gripping novel of family breakdown. Ana Lewis is trapped by her own expectations. Her intense relationship with fellow student Alex begins to crack beyond repair when she falls pregnant, and his subsequent withdrawal, emotionally and sexually are hard for Ana to bear. Eventually, following the birth of Pip and then Davie, Alex leaves Ana to a life of question and blame.

Locked in her room for much of the time she woefully neglects her children, preferring instead to replay scenes from her life over and over, fighting the urge to blink for fear it should dissipate the memories. Told within the context of two black boxes, one Ana's and one Pip's, the story reveals the key factors that have contributed to this catastrophic breakdown of life.

In Black Box 01 we meet Ana as she begins to deconstruct her life. She rails against Alex and his inability to love her, or to put her ahead of his domineering mother.

Black Box 02 is Pip's diary which details in a schoolgirl terms the neglect that both Pip and Davie have suffered. Pip talks of her mother's deterioration, lack of cleanliness and of her mother's obsessions.Pip and Davie communicate through finger sign language, as their mother demands silence. Davie retreats into his own world, permanently soiled and communicating only by sign, while Pip, fat and desperate, sneaks out of the house at night to have sex with a boy who hates her.

Pip and Davie exist in parallel, with only Ana's bedroom door separating her from them. She does not want to see them. They are the present and Ana chooses to live in a past, continually raking over the ashes of a relationship that was never really hers. Accomplished and affecting, Caroline Smailes weaves together a catastrophic tale of mismatched lives"

This, as you can probably imagine, is a real book. This is a work about real issues.

This, as you can surely imagine, is a hard hitting story.

It’s a hard hitting story written with innovation, with imagination, with a delicate and shattering simplicity.

And no, I’m not just sucking up.

See the thing I love about Caroline’s writing is that she’s not scared to try something a bit different, she not scared to make full use of the page. She’s quite happy using every available technique to tell the story, to create the atmosphere. To make the reader pay attention.

Black Boxes has an… unusual… style, certainly not one I’ve really encountered before. It’s written in three ways. Oh yes, three completely different ‘methods’.

We follow Ana through a transcript, a Black Box recording of her final descent.

We meet Pip and live through her diary.

We understand Davie through sections told in sign language.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: You’re thinking – s’a bit gimmicky isn’t it?

I mean, look at your Modernist writers, your stream of consciousness stuff – this’ll be post modernism for the sake of it, won’t it?

I know that’s what some of you will be thinking.

But others will have already spotted the elegant simplicity behind it all which makes the book so.. thrilling, so poignant, so…. Real, I suppose.

The Black Boxes. The last words. The last hours.

See, me, I love this. It’s all about memory, it’s all about perception, is all about clinging desperately to truths – even when those truths seem to be unravelling.

This is why the transcript works so well.

The Black Box. Indestructible. Inarguable evidence of the final events. Proof, above anything, of the facts.

But Ana is not indestructible. She is falling. Ana is not inarguable evidence. She is desperate, she is memory. Ana is not proof, is not fact: she is lonely, she is angry. She doesn’t trust herself anymore.

We ‘hear’ Ana’s last hours. We sift through wreckage, we slowly begin to piece together the disaster.

This is not always an easy book to read. There are some desperately sad moments, and some particularly uncomfortable ones.

But nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

And this is worth it.

Honest. It is, as I’m sure you’ve guess – proper mint, how.


And - in a seamless tie in - yesterday was it's Paperback publication day and the lovely Caroline is running a competition to win signed copies. It'll be well worth it, I guarantee it.


It is writing like Caroline's that make me excited about reading.




4 comments:

Vix said...

Couldnt agree more. Though you people and your fabulous books are making me rearrange my room to fit in more shelves.
Oh.. and you are available on the Borders website.

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