Author: Deborah Andrews
Finished on: 1 October 2016
Where did I get this book: A kindle read
This book is the last of the Guardian ‘Not The Booker Prize’ reads. By all accounts, this hasn’t been a vintage year for the prize. Disappointment has been expressed by many of those reading and commenting along on the Guardian webpages.
This is the first time that I have read a shortlist for any prize, and it has been a mixed experience. With the exception of The Summer That Melted Everything, I have not loved any of the books. Although there was much to appreciate in most of them.
My husband is one of those people that filters by one star reviews on Trip Advisor, so I know the sinkers can be fun to read, but I don’t find them fun to write. (Not that any of these books have been stinkers, I hasten to add). Especially when the writer is still alive and might read my review. And especially when that writer is not already a big success. It’s not just that I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s that writing a book is such a spectacular achievement. So very much more so than reviewing one. And it feels petty to pull apart what is clearly the product of months of creative blood, sweat and tears.
It turns out I am pretty good at judging a book by its cover. And its blurb. So, it is rare that I choose a book for myself that I don’t end up enjoying. But when reading this shortlist, I found it less the case that I was introduced to hidden gems that I would never have otherwise have discovered. And more than I persevered with books I knew from early on that I wasn’t going to love.
Walking The Lights was another book where I enjoyed many aspects, but in the end it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Andrews tells the tale of Maddie, a young graduate living in Glasgow in the mid-1990s, who has ambitions to make it as an actress if only she could put out the doobie and get up off the sofa. As well as entanglements with unsuitable boyfriends, and walking a fine line between recreational use and addiction with both alcohol and a cocktail of drugs, Maddie is also in the middle of a family drama. Her father left her mother when she was young, and the sections where Maddie searches longingly for her absent parent are amongst the most engaging in the book.
One of the strengths, but also the difficulty, with this book is the sense of impending doom that looms large over the whole story. It’s testament to the quality of Andrews’s writing that it is such an anxiety-provoking read; as a reader you can’t relax. It’s almost a relief when bad things do happen; a respite from the tension.
I have always found those comedy films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or Clockwise, stressful and not enjoyable to watch. Everything going wrong is not funny. And reading this book was a similar experience. You’re just waiting for the next disaster. It’s true that I love books where dark and terrible things happen. But turns out I’m not quite so keen on the tension that comes beforehand.
I have never claimed anything for my reviews other than a subjective assessment of books from my own freaky perspective. (To be honest, that’s all any reviewer should claim). I heard Howard Jacobson on Radio Four the other day talking about the virtue of reading ‘difficult’ novels, splitting the whole history of literature ever into a binary opposition, with ‘Melville’ on one side, and ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ on the other. And while I agreed with much of what he was saying, the truth is so much more complex. ‘Easy’ and ‘difficult’ are rubbish distinctions, and it’s often the same with ‘good’ and ‘bad’. While there are some books that are almost universally considered to be either wonderful or awful, there are vast swathes in between that we won’t agree on. And neither should we. Each of us has such a unique set of experiences and tastes that no two people can ever really read the same book.
And so, while I’m not saying this will be the last shortlist I read, I am warier than I was before of reading a group of books selected by forces outside myself in some arbitrary manner. Both because of the terror of that 1,102 sum, and also because writing negative or ‘meh’ reviews is not something I enjoy, I will have a more careful look at all the titles before I do so again.