Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay

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Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay

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Buy Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: An emotional, compelling mother-daughter story, part family-drama, part mystery, that provides a sensory feast for your imagination.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Piatkus
ISBN: 978-0749929787

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On receiving a call that every mother dreads, Alida flies to India to search for her daughter who has gone missing whilst back-packing. She finds some collage pictures that Mia left behind at her hotel and with the help of another guest, Taos, she sets about the seemingly hopeless search to discover if her daughter is dead or still alive somewhere in India.

Her daughter, Mia, has the sensory condition synaesthesia where people perceive things differently to most so, for example, letters or numbers are perceived as colours, or they see colours for sounds. This is explored through the book as although the story is told mainly from Alida's point of view we also see Mia's side of it through her diary entries - flashbacks from her childhood through to her trip to India. As Alida travels around India searching for Mia we slowly see their family history unravel, discover the dark tragedy that has clouded their lives for so many years and see the intensity of the fractured mother-daughter relationship from both sides.

I was a bit dubious when I began reading the book as a note from the author at the beginning states that the novel was written as part of her PhD in Creative Writing. I wondered if this was going to be a very 'crafted' piece of work, especially knowing about the hook of Mia having synaesthesia. I did, at times, feel that the synaesthesia was an excuse for the writer to go wild with her descriptions, and some readers might find it tedious to wade through such rich, almost poetic, language. However, my prejudices soon fell aside as I found I was totally caught up in the story thanks to the natural, engaging characters, the mysterious past events that led to Mia's disappearance, and the colourful evocation of India.

There's some interesting use of lucid dreaming within the novel, and on reading up a little about the author afterwards I discovered that she used lucid dreaming herself when writing the story to try and experience what synaesthesia might be like. These dream states also fit in well somehow with the book being set in India. I've travelled to India myself and I remember how being there was an almost alien, dream-like sensation, a total assault on my senses. I think the book captures this well, although the India I remember was a bit more edgy, dirty and dangerous than we see here.

Alida isn't always a likeable character, but she's very vivid and as a mother myself I found I had a great deal of sympathy for her whilst at the same time identifying in many ways with her daughter too. The big 'reveal' in the book is some time in coming and I felt it was perhaps stretched a little too far as the writer hints about it so much you begin to wonder if she'll make you wait until the end to discover what on earth happened to Mia as a child. Yet the gut-wrenching emotions of Alida and Mia are so realistic and aroused such sympathy that I found myself carrying the book around with me so that I could snatch moments to read snippets of it throughout the day. It isn't a book that I would go back to and re-read, but it is certainly one I'd keep on the shelf to recommend and loan to friends.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more on mother-daughter conflicts we can recommend The Memory Stones by Kate O'Riordan. For another book where a medical condition is brilliantly evoked - this time it's congenital blindness - you really should read Star Gazing by Linda Gillard.

Buy Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay at Amazon.com.

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