Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Danger Game - Kalinda Ashton

A remarkable debut novel

Kalinda Ashton’s first novel is an accomplished debut, the storyline is hard-hitting, and the characters’ lives are harsh and filled with intense sadness. Set in present day Australia, we find that childhood poverty and familial breakdown has left the two remaining Reilly siblings, Alice and Louise with little optimism for the future, Louise’s twin brother Jeremy having died in a housefire whilst still a young child, the day after which their mother left the family for good. Louise invented the danger game, involving challenging and often dangerous dares, with Alice reluctant to be involved and Jeremy not playing.

Moving into the present, Alice is now a teacher at a struggling school with many immigrant children, her job potentially under threat due to funding, and she has a dysfunctional relationship with a married man. Louise is crippled emotionally by what has happened in her past, by the belief that her father wishes she had died instead of Jeremy, and we learn she tells lies and has turned to heroin to escape the pain inside. She is still playing the danger game. Both are weighed down by the past. Alice vividly describes the raw pain of it: ‘The past was a set of cruel claws that raked through me, slicing into blood and bone and tissue.’ I think this describes perfectly how painful the past can be. The sisters have been living separate lives, but they come together again through Louise’s decision to try and find their mother and discover the true circumstances behind the fire.

The three different narrative voices, which take alternate chapters throughout the novel, are Alice’s first person thoughts, Louise’s internal thoughts to herself, and finally Jeremy who is written about in the third person, which all makes for a diverse read. Additionally the narrative moves about in time, from the present of Alice, the present of Louise which is clouded by the past, and the past of Jeremy as we learn what led up to his death and how this actually transpired.

This is an impressive, moving novel, which I found intensely sad at times, reading of the immense pain within this family, and though the main characters are struggling to like themselves, this didn’t put me off them, but rather I was engaged by the story and was willing them to somehow find a brighter future. I would definitely be interested in reading future work by this author. There is an awful lot here for reading groups to discuss, including the sibling relationships, funding of education, bullying, drug addiction, poverty, abandonment, family reconciliation, and tragic death.

(reviewed for Newbooks Magazine) 


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