Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A (plus) is for Angelica

As you all know. I am currently consumed with Olympic excitement (saw a clatter of top athletes yesterday...whetting your appetite for another day's update), but today belongs to the very talented Iain Broome and his debut novel, A is for Angelica, which launches tomorrow in ebook format and in September in paperback.

Iain's debut novel is an extraordinary look into the day to day life of Gordon, a man struggling to cope under enormous pressure at home. His wife is very ill and Gordon suddenly finds himself as her primary caretaker in what should be the prime of their lives. He feels isolated from his neighbors about whom he keeps meticulous notes, compiled as he secretly watches their every move. Gordon is at once a character that made me feel profoundly uncomfortable, sad and then laugh aloud. Broome quietly weaves a complex picture of Gordon's past and present through the tiniest and most mundane of details.

When I first sat down to read the novel on a Saturday morning, the writing style reminded me of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and I worried that the material would be a rehash of Haddon's brilliant book and that the voice would be difficult to penetrate. Then it was Sunday and I had devoured the book. I can't tell you exactly where that time went. No I can. I spent it behind Gordon's curtains, watching his neighbors, reveling in their quirkiness and thoroughly enjoying Gordon's entirely unreliable narration.

Lest you all think that this is a comedic book, I should be clear that it's not, although Broome has a wickedly dark sense of humor that did have me laughing out loud on a couple of occasions. This book also had me in tears in several places. Broome perfectly captures the intense, frustrating and helpless experience of being a loved-one's carer. His descriptions of Gordon's daily life are detailed, truthful and handled with both humor and compassion.

This novel is a "slow burn", no wild twists or real surprises. Just a meticulous character study of a man whose life is crumbling and so is struggling to create order in his life and to make human connections as he becomes ever more reclusive.

I really connected with this book and with Gordon because I have known people close to me who have found themselves in similar situations to Gordon, but I do wonder if readers without a similar experience would find it as powerful. Perhaps the only flaw, if there is one, is that A is for Angelica is too truthful and too specific to a particular experience. For me though, it was touching, cathartic and completely engrossing - a weekend very well spent.

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