Another review on the Random Things blog tour – many thanks to Julie Barham of Northern Reader for her close reading and uplifting words…
Annie seems to live in a beautiful part of Scotland, but there is trouble in paradise, a fact which is even more evident when she takes her son Jude to visit her brother on a Greek island. This is a novel about the difficulties of life that a woman can meet in a contemporary world, when determination to find a different way of life can lead to trouble. It is also a very powerful look at the way the arrival of refugees on Greek islands means that those who seek to help are always meeting enormous challenges. There is so much in this novel that it is quite breathtaking, as the author also manages to put in a mystery that reverberates across several years. Identity, family loyalty and the imperfections that affect realistic characters, this is a novel which is memorable for all the right reasons. It creates a strong impression of how the islands cope with an influx of people who have risked everything to travel on the sea, and gives glimpses into their fates. I found this an engaging book with high ambitions, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book opens with Annie, a young woman, struggling with her thirteen year old son Jude. He is a mixed – race boy in a small Scottish coastal town as the author describes him, with quite a temper. Her desperation to cope with him leads her to bring forward a trip to see her brother Fraser on Symi, one of the Dodecanese Islands of Greece. He has connections there; to Clair who runs painting groups and spends the rest of her time helping some of the refugees who crowd onto the islands for much of the year, her daughter Jess who manages to get her own way most of the time, and owners of bars, hotels and others who make his life possible as he gets by as a bookkeeper. He also goes out as a volunteer on a boat which tries to help those who turn up in the local waters in makeshift craft. Annie and Fraser come from an unusual family, and the early part of the book goes back to the story of how Annie ran away to London as a teenager. The novel then goes on to the present day, as the desperate Annie turns up on the island with the truculent Jude, hoping that the effects of the community will settle and give him a new focus. It soon seems as if they will both meet significant people, and will find new challenges, especially when the past seems to be catching up with everyone.
The book cleverly combines some shocking tales within the main narrative, and reveals the vulnerability of people in many settings. There is attention to detail, especially in terms of clothing and setting, which really lefts the rest of the story off the page. The author also has a good ear for dialogue, as the various age groups and people are brought to life by their speech and small actions. This is particularly important as a mystery must be solved as a real threat emerges. I found it a good read, with a lot of depth and meaning. I recommend it to those interested in contemporary fiction which reveals real life in this country, as well as some of the reality of the reception of refugees on the islands of a country on the edge.
I found this a fascinating book, partly because I have met some refugees locally, and attempted to teach them English. This book tells some of the stories of people who have risked so much to flee from certain countries, and includes an actual story of one man who had a complex and challenging route to Devon. Please do not be put off by some of the themes of this book; there is some real humour and insight shown in the writing throughout the novel.