It's eight minutes to one in the morning as I start to write this, and as nearly always on a Sunday night/Monday morning, I can't sleep.
However, this time I think it's more to do with a promise I nearly broke than that 'oh God it's nearly Monday' feeling. (That, and the fact it's freezing here.) Hopefully, keeping that promise will let me sleep.
So here is my review of Disraeli Avenue by Caroline Smailes.
You know that sometimes, opening a book is like discovering a key to another world? JK Rowling did it with Harry Potter. Tolkein with Lord of the Rings. Pullman with the His Dark Materials trilogy.
Not many adults' books manage it in quite such a wholesale fashion - at least, if you discount Star Wars novels and the like. Maybe we're supposed to have outgrown the need to escape our own reality. But Caroline has obsessively woven her universe. Not something fantastical like those three, but just as skilfully done, just as compelling. From the first page of In Search of Adam, the first page of Disraeli Avenue, every detail is precise and true and it swallows you whole.
My confession? I am ashamed to admit it. But the reason I never reviewed In Search of Adam before is that I was scared of it. I was pulled on by the prose. I had to finish reading. It was beautiful. Haunting. Bleak. Beautiful. I cried for Jude. But it scared me. And I didn't know how to explain all that. And I didn't understand yet why anyone who I could tell would want to read.
But now I think I understand. On rereading, when the paperback came out, I started to understand better. I ached for someone to care for Jude. I was glad that in the end, she got some of the answers she needed. But really? I needed Disraeli Avenue. I needed to hear what Crystal and Bill felt. I needed to know what happened next. And from number 30 onwards, the tears started to form. And from when Bill started to speak they flowed. My heart broke for Jude and her family.
It's the tiny details that make this book. The parts where the narratives of different families weave together. Paul Hodgson being jealous of Jude having a dad. Mr Scott riding metro trains, unable to shake one horrific memory. Mrs Smith and her Elizabeth. The local colour; I can hear Bill and his Geordie voice. I can see Disraeli Avenue and its inhabitants.
In Search of Adam and Disraeli Avenue are not easy books. They are not a lighthearted holiday read. But they are beautiful and necessary. People may ask, why write such dark novels? Why choose such terrifying subject matter? But the truth is that this happens. Children out there are going through this now. Denying it, avoiding unpleasant truths, does not make it go away.
Confronting it, bringing it into the daylight, asking why people do these things and why people who know or suspect what is going on do not speak up? That might help to stop these things happening. And by releasing Disraeli Avenue as a free download, by asking those who read to donate money to a charity that helps those who have gone through sexual abuse, Caroline has done her part and much, much more to help protect children and to help survivors of sexual abuse heal.
You don't need to read In Search of Adam to 'get' Disraeli Avenue, or vice versa. But they are stronger as a pair. Each will help you to understand the other.
In Search of Adam is out now at Waterstones, Borders, Amazon and others. Disraeli Avenue is available for free. But please don't let that stop you from donating to One In Four, so named because 'Research has consistently shown that one in four children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.' One in Four UK is a Registered Charity (Charity Number 1081726). Caroline's original target of £500 is already met, and the official release date wasn't supposed to be til tomorrow. Let's see if we can double that, eh?
And if you enjoy it, please spread the word. There is no PR budget for either of these releases, so any money raised is through word of mouth. Caroline, her publisher and the cover-designing- person(?!) have all given their time and talent for free. Please email me or Caroline if you want the code to add the widget to your site too.
Thanks for reading.
(I am posting this now, without proofreading properly, because I want to keep my promise. I may revise this review after a night's sleep and an exhausting day. Who can say.)