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

Friday 12 October 2012

Waterline - Ross Raisin

Mick Little used to work as a shipbuilder, but had to turn to driving a mini cab when Glasgow's shipping yards closed. Now he has lost his wife, Cathy, to mesothelioma and is gradually overwhelmed by grief and guilt over her death.  Afraid of the pity of his friends and family, he descends into paranoia and depression and eventually runs away to London in an attempt to find a new life for himself. However, he finds he cannot escape his feelings of shame and finds his life instead continues to spiral downwards.

Waterline is a very convincing portrait of one man's decline amid despair.  Mick Little is metaphorically holed below the waterline by his wife's death and sinks rapidly, shunning the efforts of those around him to shore him up. In a few telling and beautifully observed scenes Raisin captures perfectly the lethargy and shame of depression, Mick's inability to take decisions or focus on even the simplest task ("Best not to think about the big picture right now, because it's just too bloody big."), his loss of appetite for both food and life, his increasing reluctance to have even the briefest of contact with other people.

Where all this leads Mick to is a place below the waterline of modern society, a place on the very margins of life that is peopled by exploited immigrant workers, by the unemployed and by vagrants, all people who are by and large overlooked by all but those who deliberately seek them out to offer help.  Although most of the book's events are seen through Mick's eyes, Raisin gives us occasional glimpses of him from the point of view of passers by, a device that not only highlights Mick's physical decline, but also reveals the often dismissive and callous attitude of the casual observer, indeed of most of us who would walk hurriedly by rather than stop to investigate the huddled shape lying in a doorway or on a park bench.

This is in many ways a depressing and grim portrait of modern life and of how easily individuals can fall out of society and out of sight.  However, Raisin leavens this with moments of wry humour throughout the book, and even in the darkest moments the redemptive power of human contact and friendship saves both Mick Little and the reader from absolute despair.  Nevertheless, even though the ending appears to promise hope and redemption, the tone of the final scene is one of quiet sadness.

This is a very different book from Raisin's first novel, God's Own Country.  Even though both could be said to be about people who are marginalised in society, in Waterline this theme is explored in much greater depth and with much more compassion.  Mick Little is a living, breathing character, the depiction of his grief and his decline is completely convincing, and it is impossible for the reader not to empathise and sympathise with him. In terms of subject matter this isn't a light book by any means, and the fact that Mick's thoughts and words are conveyed in Glaswegian dialect slows the reader down, but this has the benefit of forcing the reader to dwell on what's happening to Mick rather than passing hurriedly on, of shaking us out of our comfort zones to contemplate this twilight world on the underbelly of society that most of us would rather turn a blind eye to.  Waterline isn't always an easy read, but overall I found it an extremely thought-provoking and rewarding one.

Reviewed by Penny Tattersall

Guest reviewer Penny Tattersall has kindly reviewed this novel for The Little Reader Library - many thanks to Penny for this lovely, perceptive review. Penny is another very keen reader whose thoughts I trust when choosing a book.

Published by Penguin

Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel to read and review.


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