Friends writing books is quite the thing at the moment. Last month I told you about my best friend’s debut book for children when their mum is diagnosed with breast cancer. This month, an acquaintance I’ve got to know through writing, has launched her first novel which she asked me to review. And what a first novel it is!
Set in contemporary rural Suffolk,’The Girl at the End of the Road’ is a poignant story that grows on you as you read it. At first I wasn’t gripped, if I’m honest, but as I read on I found myself drawn in by the rather intriguing character of ‘the girl’, the unusual story line and convincing characterisation. Interestingly, I found myself warming to the book in the same way that the main character, Vince, slowly warms to his new life back home with his parents. As the chapters unfolded, the bland small village life and its characters gained colour and depth.
Without giving anything away, the story is essentially this: a self-centred, rather full-of-himself financial adviser, Vince is forced to return to his parental home after losing his City job and girlfriend in the recent recession. The mundanity of village life, the crushing humiliation of losing everything he thought was important, and his parent’s physical decline all combine to test his values and sense of identity. Cue ‘the girl’. Sarah, an old acquaintance from school days who still lives in the village is dowdy, direct and bookish. Representing all that modern culture despises, she acts as a direct challenge to all Vince holds dear yet paradoxically, becomes the only person whose company he enjoys.
For me, the character of Sarah, and her relationship with Vince, was the most arresting and unusual aspect of the book that kept me turning the pages. The father-son relationship was also sensitively and convincingly portrayed, as was the description of the Suffolk winter landscape which was evocative and beguiling.
It is actually quite an ambitious novel in that it deftly addresses issues of loneliness, ageing parents, contemporary consumer culture, identity, disillusionment, faith, dog walking (yes!) and, most notably, autism and special needs, all in one book. Oh and violent dwarfs. Yes, Kathryn deftly weaves in enough humour to keep the reader going with a healthy dollop of mystery and intrigue surrounding the ‘The Specials’; I loved the mischievous, counter-culture way in which she handled that subject.
There’s even a dash of romance, but Kathryn cleverly doesn’t let it become the centre of the book and is in no way predictable.
I have to admit, there were times when I felt the book lacked a certain subtlety. The many exclamation marks in the opening chapters and the parochial accent of Jimmy was a little grating. Also, the main characters sometimes laboured their points a little too much, making the reader feel slightly ‘lectured’ on certain subjects. That said, Kathryn used a subtle hand on many other subjects, including faith, that I enjoyed. This is, after all, Kathryn’s first novel – writing a novel of this quality is no mean feat!
I always think that the mark of a good book is that it leaves a mark on you. Sarah and Vince’s father are both characters that pop into my mind every now and then; they haven’t left my subconscious. That is real writer’s skill.
So, if you like books about personal growth, relationships, dealing with disappointment and loss, autism and what it means to be ‘normal’, you’ll enjoy this book. I did.
Published by Instant Apostle, the book is available to buy from Amazon on 24 March for £8.99. All the profits from this book are going to a small children’s charity, MECI, based in Togo that Kathryn is a devoted supporter of.