Vicky Newham


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The Trap – flash fiction

I’m turning into my mother.

It hits me as I lean over the bath and sprinkle talc between damp toes. A shiver of dread accompanies the realisation.

‘I’m going upstairs to wash my feet,’ she’d say, and then would return ten minutes later, lipstick refreshed, hair smoothed into place, and a dab of Penhaligon’s Bluebell behind the ears.

I know each step of the routine. Lolled on the rug in her dressing room dozens of times, pretending not to watch while all the time taking in each intricate gesture and the order in which they’re performed. The side to side lip movement to distribute colour. Not too vigorous, just enough. Then blot.

And here I am, carrying out the same rituals, in the same order, to collect my thoughts and recalibrate before day slides into evening.

You’ll be home soon, crackling with excitement about your trip, people met, sights seen. And you’ll inquire kindly, ‘How was your week?’

And I’ll wither inside and squeeze out, ‘Fine, thanks,’ when what I really want to say is, ‘I’ve turned into my bloody mother.’

As she looks back at me from the oval mirror, the one that always sat on her dressing table, heaviness pulls like emotional gravity.

And I scruff up my hair and wipe my mouth clean. Pull on jeans and flip-flops.

I am not my mother. I am me.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


1 Comment

The Island Escape by Kerry Fisher – a review

I really enjoyed Kerry’s first novel, The School Gate Survival Guide. I bought and read this when it was called The Class Ceiling, after Kerry came along to talk to my writing group. It was clear from that book that Kerry’s writing is clever: she puts things across humorously but underneath the funny scenarios and quick exchanges lurk important life issues and questions, and tricky relationship dynamics.

The Island Escape is another cracking read and showcases similar witty writing and well observed characterisation. It revolves around the friendship between long term friends Octavia (who is married to Jonathon) and Roberta (who is married to Scott). The two women are very different characters but both have been married for a long time. Chapters alternate between the two friends and the story is told from both points of view. Roberta’s marriage is on its last legs and, as so often happens, this results in Octavia wondering about her own marriage and reminiscing about the time she spent in Corsica. It was there that she met and fell in love with Xavi.

I adore books which have female friendship as a context, as this can be an intense relationship with many potential ‘rabbit holes’. It is fascinating to consider – through story – how changes in the life of one person so often affect others around them, and the range of feelings that can be prompted when someone close is either struggling or experiences success. The actions of those around us can be contagious, but they can also arouse fear, jealousy and conflict. The tensions and jealousies between Roberta and Octavia are very believable, all the more so as they genuinely care about each other. I also enjoy books which address questions which we all have about our lives, jobs and relationships: is it better to stay put with ‘the devil you know’ or get out and take a risk in the hope of something better? This aspect of the Island Escape is affirming and optimistic. There are never any guarantees but it’s always worth having dreams.

The story gallops along, taking the reader with it. Many sections are funny, with real laugh out loud lines, and other moments are poignant. Highly recommended.

My copy was obtained from NetGalley. Thank you.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


3 Comments

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent – a review

 

 

The cover of the book includes the quote, ‘A compelling whydunnit’ and I would agree. Its opening line is, ‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’ It’s a clever start to a novel, and one which whisks the reader straight into the heart of the plot, but it is also a challenging one as the suspense has to be created through the ‘unravelling’ of why Oliver did what he did to his wife, Alice, and what his attitude is to his actions.

I found Unravelling Oliver extremely interesting. Chapters are told from the point of view of a number of different characters and all in the first person. We start with Oliver, then Barney (who had been Alice’s boyfriend). I loved Barney. His voice is so distinctive and he genuinely adores Alice and her brother, Eugene. Then we hear from other people who knew Oliver. There is Michael, whose sister, Laura, went out with Oliver at university. It is on a working holiday in Bordeaux which Oliver, Laura and Michael go on where things start to ‘unravel’ for Oliver, and one event leads relentlessly to another.

As the reader learns about Oliver’s upbringing, his developmental trajectory and behaviour are explained. This raises interesting questions about nature and nurture, as it is fascinating to consider whether Oliver was always going to be a psychopath and a liar or whether it took his developmental experiences for this to happen. I found it hard not to dislike Oliver, especially given the book’s opening, and I felt very sad for Laura and Alice. The characters the reader hears from are well portrayed and distinct, and given the multiple viewpoints, I was pleased the chapters were of sufficient length to ‘get into’ each of the characters and what they had to contribute.

As I was reading I did find myself wondering how the book was going to end, and turning over options in my mind. For me, the main pleasures of this book were the writing and the psychology. The author had a clever, unusual turn of phrase, including some lovely Irish expressions, and some of the descriptions and dialogue were wonderful. I adore books which have ‘choice’ as a theme, and which raise the question of how much we have as humans. Why do we each make the choices we do? Why did Barney let Oliver take Alice from him, and why did Alice leave nice, adoring Barney for Oliver? Were those decisions pre-determined, and if so, what by? Or did they choose them? In this regard, I thought the title was clever. Was Oliver always going to unravel or is the reader unravelling him?

If I have one criticism of the novel, it is that, for me, the narrative lacked suspense and jeopardy – but I wonder if this comes partly from the book starting with the reader knowing who the baddie is. The only real questions on the table are why Oliver is the way he is and what happens to him. However, the author may have wanted the book to be like this, and that is fair enough. Unravelling Oliver is still extremely interesting and well written.

My copy of the book was bought and read on kindle.

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Vicky Newham © 2015