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Monday, 6 October 2008
by Caroline Smailes
In her latest novel, Caroline Smailes has created a stunning and enticing journey using startling imagery and an incredibly original use of language. I started to read it on a train and was actually pleased when the train was delayed, because it meant I could carry on reading.
’Black Boxes’ is a novel which requires more of an input from the reader than just reading. Its narrative engages on a number of levels including the intellectual, the emotional and the artistic. At the heart of the story, the novel explores the themes of desire, loss and despair. In her usual unflinching way Caroline Smailes has tackled subjects that are uncomfortable and challenging.
The novel tells the story of Ana and her descent into depression and emotional inaction. Ana is complex and damaged, trapped within her black box of inertia and isolation.The use of the concept of the black box to tell the story of Ana is captivating, intriguing and challenging. It is a story-telling device which allows for the examination of narrative from a number of different angles and adds vivid layers to the telling of the tale.
The narrative is enriched by the use of sign language which is an integral part of the plot as a means of communication between two of the characters. A secret backwards language has also been introduced which reflects the perversity and emotional distance of the characters who use it.As always with Caroline’s writing, the mastery of language is breathtaking and the poetry of the text creates beauty even where the subject matter is ugly.
‘Black Boxes’ is also the story of Pip, Ana’s denied daughter. Like Jude in Caroline’s first novel, ‘In Search Of Adam’, Pip cries out to be heard. She needs the reader to listen to her – because the adults in her life will not.
Like ‘In Search of Adam’, ‘Black Boxes’ is a stark warning of what can happen when children’s voices are not heard.
For me ‘Black Boxes’ is, ultimately, the story of Pip and the way she is failed by those who should have protected her. Like Jude before her, Pip will live on in my heart for a long time.
reviewed by Helen M Hunt