Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks

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Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A novel whose merits outweigh its final achievements; the featured character has just too much put on her shoulders, yet describes them in a very vivid and engaging way.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: April 2014
Publisher: Freight Books
ISBN: 9781908754455

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Meet Grace. She's in her forties, living with a hit-and-miss family in a Glasgow council flat, and in the middle of a whole host of issues. She has issues about her parents, and their moving on or death; she has issues about her sister who might or might not have had a much superior life pattern than Grace; she has issues about her children – Francis who has left Grace with her own daughter to spend time with drink or drugs instead, and son Vincent, who will like as not create an issue by joining the army and moving on himself. Grace also has issues with the fact that she is nearly as blind as a bat, and can neither read nor write. She's started the novel where she shouldn't be – at home in Glasgow, struggling, as she was due to fly to meet her sister at last, yet packed her glasses in the case that must be the other end, and completely missed her flight.

Before I wear the word 'issue' out, the great thing about this book is that Grace and her narrative can juggle them all and still come out the better for it. Nor have I actually mentioned all of the hardships and problems facing her, or that have in the past befallen her, partly because the plot drip-feeds them to us willy-nilly – sometimes guessable, sometimes not. The prime factor that hits us, the reader, is the semi-literacy of the narrator, and so Grace gives us her story in her vernacular, with her own spelling, and her own attempts at being understood.

Here's her describing the onset of a migraine – I can feel the preshure builden in my eye the light is beginnen to crack the vishoun on my left side. The skin it selve is beginnen to feel pain ful to the touch. My mouth is slowen to accommodate it. That is the order first your eyes and then your mouth isent that right gracie. I haven't made my word processor so colourful in years. But the whole text must have been a pain to type – she never uses the 'ing' suffix, it's always 'en', 'quiet' is always 'quite', and she can get a complex word like accommodate spelled correctly one line and wrongly the line below. (It's a pity that the proof-reading hasn't been as diligent as the creation of the style.)

This approach is one of the main reasons I've declared this to be a literary fiction and not a general novel. I don't think it's as alienating as it seems – although it makes the book a much slower read that it would otherwise be, and you have to be careful not to let the voice of Grace in your head slip from some Glasgow accent to your own as it can bring a very different character to the whole thing. The other reason for the literary tag is that while there are so many issues (sorry), and they're all balanced without making the book depressing or monotonous, the pages do seem to struggle to escape them and put a stamp on the plot.

It's stated on the back that Brooks works in adult literacy, and there is perhaps a kind of surrogate Brooks character in the piece, so that's definitely part of the ethos of the book. But by dropping too much on Grace's shoulders, and giving her such an endless amount of woes, that is just one of many elements in play. I was always aware of the kind of book this is not. It's not exactly a trend but we've had books featuring narrators with Asperger's before now, and one of the biggest hits of 2013/2014 has been narrated by someone with mental health problems. It seems to me those books can definitely be called general fiction – they grasp one nettle, run with it, and in coming out the other end with clarity, narrative drive and sheer command of one issue, make a book that perhaps even the likewise sufferer can also read and enjoy.

The approach of the home-made spelling and grammar here means that the semi-literate will not be able to join in and share these pages, but that's not the only difference. Here the brightest clarity is with Grace's personality, the narrative drive is diffused through worrying about too many characteristics of the storyline, and there is no attempt to make this in command of one issue, rather the enfolding of a dozen or more on to one poor woman. There definitely was no enlightening spark as can brighten the best of this type of novel, and the humour mentioned twice on the back cover blurb was completely absent.

And don't get me started on the luggage travelling abroad and the owner not, post 9/11. Grace was only supposed to go to the Canaries, but this – purely for the benefit of the sterling work at creating a juvenile writing style, and forcing a well-wrought character with too much at stake into our minds – is much more like a long-haul flight.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The hit book referred to above was, of course, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

Buy Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks at Amazon.com.

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