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Burning Out by Katherine May

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Violet has it all – a well-paid job, and a luxurious apartment all to herself. Everything is catered for; her meals, her clothes, and her health are all how she would like them to be. But the life she is leading is beginning to take its toll. On the verge of snapping, a drained and somewhat out-of-sorts Violet, withdraws back to her home town. There, she meets someone familiar, a ghost reminding her of how she used to be ten years earlier – a young carefree girl, full of life. Only this isn't a ghost, but a girl living the life Violet once lived – exactly the same. Haunted by the past Violet realizes history is repeating itself and is convinced events will happen again. Events that will in turn haunt the girl.

Burning Out by Katherine May

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Amy Taylor
Reviewed by Amy Taylor
Summary: A ghostly dream of a novel about a woman trying to re-discover life and how she used to be. Its poetic style will absorb you and haunt you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 350 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Snow Books
ISBN: 978-1906727390

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This is a beautifully written, and deeply atmospheric first novel. The prose absorbs you, and gets under your skin. Its poetic style makes the everyday seem like a strange dream. Violet works and lives in Central London, an overstuffed bubble where everyone has to keep up with everyone else. The chapters are short, but detailed with thought, concentrating on one setting at a time, at the office, in a taxi, at the gym, and so on. We follow Violet in third person, who is forever organizing her life to a schedule round work, with not much room in-between.

But this isn't just Violet's story; it's the girl's as well. Told using a different font and written in first person, she is the narrator who tells you about Violet. She is the voice in the back of your head asking the endless questions – the one that shatters your dream that you can escape into a book. For me it was the weakest part. At times it felt like I was being rudely interrupted just to hear a rant about society and then told to read on, when actually, I was going to do that anyway. Then it would become focused again and the girl would tell you a bit more about herself. Overall, it wasn't as strong. I wanted it to somehow blend with Violet's voice, as I did like the concept. It was like the author was making an appearance, a welcome if a little clumsy addition.

The plot is subtly put together; you sink further into its depth, always wanting that bit more. The scene of Violet's hometown, an empty seaside resort on the Kent coast, is wonderfully portrayed, you can hear the wind, taste the salt, and feel the biting cold whipping around you. The author makes the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary ordinary. You aren't sure what's real and what's not. Violet changes in such a way that she could be any woman, every woman – an image of the female body and soul. It leaves you searching through your jumbled thoughts, believing in things you may not have believed in before. But most of all, it leaves you hoping that this author will write some more books, just for you.

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

If you want to read another beautiful book full of atmosphere you could try, Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow, and still on the subject of women, After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell is a superb page-turner.

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Buy Burning Out by Katherine May at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burning Out by Katherine May at


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