Archive for December, 2013

NO DUCKING THE ISSUE!

IN TOO DEEP by Bea Davenport opens with a drowned woman being fished from a ducking pond in the market square of a small town in North East England. So far, so historical, you might think, but – shockingly – this ‘tense and suspenseful debut’ has a contemporary setting. The synopsis reads:

‘“The window’s so small I can’t see what happens next. But what I do know is that Kim is dead. And I know this, too that I helped to kill her. Kim, my lovely, only, best friend.”
Five years ago Maura fled life in Dowerby and took on a new identity, desperately trying to piece her life back together and escape the dark clouds that plagued her past. But then a reporter tracks her down, and persuades her to tell her story, putting her own life in danger once again.
Layer upon layer of violence and deceit make up the full picture for Maura to see and the reporter to reveal. Hidden secrets are uncovered that have been left to settle, for far too long. But in life some things can’t be left unsaid, and eventually the truth will out. Whatever the consequences.’

A dozen of us met at The Barrels Alehouse to discuss the first novel of our fellow book group member, Bea Davenport (or Barbara, as we know her), who joined us to give a reading, answer questions and take part in our debate. This finely crafted suspense novel dovetails two themes: domestic violence, and the sometimes poisonous insularity of small-town life. The dilemma of Maura, a woman controlled both physically and psychologically by her violent husband, is portrayed with unflinching realism – so much so that a number of us began the discussion by asking, ‘But surely…?’ But surely a woman would not run away and leave her young daughter with a violent man? But surely someone in the town would have noticed signs of violence? But surely Maura would have gone to a refuge instead of fleeing to London? Barbara was able to answer, with the authority gained from her time as a volunteer in a battered women’s refuge, that yes, all of these things are not only possible but, sadly, realistic.

Realism rules in this novel, which never tips over into melodrama despite a plot laced with murderers and stalkers. This is partly due to the complex and believable character of Maura, the narrator of the story. Maura does not want to face up to what happened to Kim, her best friend, so she hides her past from us and from herself. She is running from, rather than sleuthing towards the truth, giving us a slow, reluctant reveal, which creates a very different dynamic to the traditional crime novel narrative.

Some group members found Maura an annoyingly passive character. Martin admitted,
‘I had great difficulty in separating Maura who is fictional from Barbara who is real, not because I thought Barbara was the sort of lady to accept repeated abuse but because she wrote the character Maura so credibly a part of me thought it had to come from first-hand experience. Thus knowing Barbara acted as a spoiler for me. I could admire the skill and craft employed but not enjoy the read. I suspect enjoy is the wrong word where you want to leap into the page and give the character a good shake. “Your husband is evil. Get out.” The flash journalist and the small minded villagers were very real. I actually read the book when it first came out in paper form some months ago and with my un-retentive memory the main feeling was anger at Maura’s supine acceptance of her husband’s aggression. It is a book I shall read again.’

We also discussed whether there were any heroes in the book. Barbara thought not, or if there were, they had ‘feet of clay’. However, some of us disagreed, particularly Jill, who leapt to the defence of Kim, the ducking stool victim. Kim had behaved in a way that was problematic for some, but she was a strong and sympathetic character who should not have met her death that way.

We finished with a thank you to Barbara and some book recommendations from members. They were:
Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin
The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Navigator by Stephen Baxter
Alex by Pierre Le Maitre

Ann Coburn

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About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

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