Always There by John Van der Kiste

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Always There by John Van der Kiste

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A neatly plotted story set in the seventies, when mental health was not as widely recognised as it is today.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 250 Date: October 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1517761233

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When Dave left Plymouth to go to college in Uxbridge he met Lisa. They sort of palled around together for a little while with no thought of anything more, well, not on Dave's part at least. The he met Jo and for a long time they were really good friends and it would be a couple of years before they were anything more. Lisa didn't see it that way though: she reckoned that if Jo hadn't come along she and Dave would have stuck together and made a go of it. Dave and Jo's couple of years at college were marked, if not marred, by Lisa's regular outbursts.

In fairness Lisa was not mentally stable. There was obviously a history of trauma and possibly even abuse in her childhood. She didn't seem to have any immediate family who would be there for her when she needed help - but equally she didn't seem inclined to open up to anyone about what had happened to her. Even people who thought of her as a friend didn't really understand what was going on. For Dave and Jo it just seemed that she was always there, even when they couldn't understand how she knew where they'd be. They were being stalked.

John Van der Kiste's characterisation of Lisa is excellent. He captures the mental flakiness and the failures that seem to hound her even when she's trying her best to make things work. Set in the seventies when mental illness was not so well understood as it is now, the story reflects the struggle that many people had to cope with their feelings. There's a delicate balance between our sympathy for Lisa and the deep-down knowledge that we'd hate to have anything to do with her if we encountered her in real life. It's cleverly done.

Van der Kiste's knowledge of the seventies music scene runs as a golden thread through the book and brought back some wonderful memories for me: I seem to remember being there at the time.

The situation with Lisa became increasingly tense and towards the end of the book I found that I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough: the ending was certainly not what I had been expecting. I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag. We also have a review of Jonathan Wild: Conman and Cutpurse by John Van der Kiste.

Van der Kiste is perhaps best known for his biographies, but for more of his fiction, have a look at The Man on the Moor.

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Buy Always There by John Van der Kiste at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Always There by John Van der Kiste at


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