I’m officially novelisting as the day job: hurrah! No more guided tours from me.
It was time to stop: I was starting to sound like Mark Gatiss doing the Stumphole Cavern sketch every time I talked about ceiling bosses. But I will miss being asked about architecture and history and where the toilets are, and quite often knowing the answers. I’ll miss the little ripple of laughter I always got from the obligatory Shakespeare anecdote. Above all I’ll miss being able to call this ‘the office’:
Kiddie deathlit: like buses, apparently. Second of the ‘three came along at once’ is Jenny Downham’s Before I Die (YA, hardback). Like Sam in Ways to Live Forever, Tessa has a list of things to achieve before her terminal illness wins – but Tessa is 16, so we’re into sex, drugs, rock and roll territory. There’s something mournfully pedestrian about Tessa’s list, and about her life in general, however extraordinary her circumstances: she’s an unflinchingly horrible teenage girl, whose real tragedy is that she’ll never live long enough to grow into the gentler, more interesting woman lurking beneath. Just as unflinching is her best friend, Zoey, retained because she’s the only girl in school selfish enough to ignore Tessa’s illness, yet utterly destructive to be around as a result (until she undergoes her own emotional renaissance). The prose is striking, recalling most the powerful simplicity of Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Sadly towards the close, it becomes overlong and repetitive, with an infuriatingly self-indulgent fifty pages at the end that makes you long, guiltily, for the inevitable. But it’s a memorable, if gruelling, read. I’d have some chocolate on standby if I were you.
Next up, The Bower Bird, about, er, a girl with a terminal illness. Then again, I did receive a certain adventure story with a glowing neon orange slipcover from Amazon just this morning…