The Source by Sarah Sultoon
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|The Source by Sarah Sultoon|
|Reviewer: Stephen Leach|
|Summary: A young girl is drawn into a web of sexual abuse and exploitation. Suitably grim reading, but not as hard-hitting as it wants to be.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 320||Date: April 2021|
1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak...
2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier...
Just that description might put a lot of people off, but Source isn't concerned with alienating readers; it crafts a stark narrative and examines it up close, demonstrating how exactly such vast corruption can be allowed to happen. It's not as shocking as it could be, or as explicit, but this isn't a weakness – much of that is left to interpretation, and you can fill in the blanks quite capably.
That said, though, I didn't feel quite as affected by it as I thought I would. The novel is at its best when it's describing the bleakness of Carly's situation and the sense of how trapped she is; I really did emphathise with her given her age and inexperience. But the action and the stakes of the novel's climax never really gripped me, and I found myself thinking that the end of the novel was somewhat undramatic.
The one aspect of the book I did quite like was the clever structure. The book alternates between the two narratives: Carly in Essex in 1996, Marie in London in 2006. Slowly the past story catches up to the present one. It's a clever and unusual way to tell the story, and I appreciated the gradual contextualising that happened as the two threads became more interlinked. Of the two plot strands the past story is by far the more engaging: painting a harsh depiction of a poor and rather desolate army base satellite-town (the unimaginatively-named Warchester) and the bleakness of Carly's childhood there. By comparison I felt that the future plot didn't stand out as much; the narrative felt harder to engage with, and the characters felt less real. One thing that might have helped with this were if the chapters had been longer: they're little gulpy snapshots of time, not long sequences.
While I didn't think The Source was a bad book, it's not one I'll be rushing to read again. Luckily, this genre is a wide field at the moment, so allow me to recommend Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak as a delightful exemplar of a thriller that's full of creepy, unsettling darkness (and is the first in a series, too).
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