Joe Jacobs, a Jewish ex-refugee now turned poet, and his wife Isabel, a war correspondent, are holidaying in the south of France with their fourteen year old daughter, Nina. They have been joined by their old friends, Mitchell and Laura who run a failing souvenir shop near Kings Cross, London. One afternoon, they find a young, naked Kitty Finch swimming in the pool of their hired villa. Isabel, without consultation with the others, invites Kitty to stay and so begins the fragmentation of the group. Kitty’s penchant for naturalism, coupled with her mental health problems, breakdown the controlled order of those around her.
Whilst Kitty appears to be a very fragile character, her underlying determination shines through. ‘Swimming Home’ is the title of Kitty’s poem, a poem based on her thoughts that: ‘Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll all get home safely.’ She is so desperate for Joe to read it, that she’s deliberately tracked him down on holiday.
This is a story of the devastating effects of depression and how it ripples through family, friends and the community however the story is so subtly told that it lacks strength at times.
The theme of the story is great but the characters surrounding the main protagonist, Kitty, are too understanding and in this way the novel lacks a sense of reality. Having said that, it is interesting in the way in which Kitty is able to connect to the people around her and by drawing them out, she is able to show to them their own unbalance world. Her relationship with Joe is tragic in many senses of the word and can leave question marks as to the reality of this relationship.
Being selected as Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime also shows how quietly and subtly the subject matter has been dealt with, which in itself, may not be a good advert.
Alison OREilly 1/10/2012
Night Road by Kristen Hannah
Alexa (Lexi) Baille, fatherless from birth then orphaned in her early teens when her drug-addict mother overdoses, arrives in a close-knit community of Pine Island, near Seattle, to live in a trailer park with her great aunt Eva. On Lexi’s first day at high school she befriends the socially awkward and self-deprecating, Mia Farraday, who is a twin to Zack, a straight A student and the future ‘Home-Coming King’. Jude, the twin’s mother, is the perfect Stepford-wife who spends her time creating a designer-life for her children and, being married to a successful doctor, money doesn’t appear to be a problem. When Mia invites Lexi back to her home after their first day at school, Jude makes a conscious decision that Lexi’s selflessness could give the forever-friendless Mia more confidence so, despite the two families being from the opposite side of the track, Jude actively encourages Lexi into the family. But one dark night, many years later, Jude regrets her decision.
Kristen Hannah tackles a very complex scenario but sadly relies on sensationalism rather than character development that turns what could have been a remarkable novel into something that is more appropriate for a teenage magazine. The issues that arise within the novel: drunken driving; death and teenage pregnancy, are very current in today’s world and the essence of the book, forgiveness, is most commendable but the realism of her characters is overshadowed by this very plot-led novel.
It is definitely a book of two halves. The first half lacks character realism and has a bit of a pedestrian plot. The manner in which the whole Farraday family, with the exception of Jude’s husband who is boringly ‘nice’, tend to feed off Lexi’s altruism becomes rather irritating. However in the later part of the book, Hannah comes into her stride, creating a much feistier Lexi who leads the reader into some very emotional scenes. This is a great book for adolescent readers, in fact, it’s almost ‘a must’, but, for the more mature reader, it lacks depth.
Alison OReilly 14/4/2012