The Drowning of Arthur Braxton
I had a sneak preview of this book a few weeks ago (thank you, Caroline!) and I totally loved it. It’s taken me a while to get round to doing a review – mainly because I was worried about not doing it justice. Because this is a fabulous book, and just like Caroline’s previous novels it has a spirit and an essence that are both unique and beautiful.
Inextricably combined in this story are a wonderful sense of place, and some amazing characters. It really is like entering into another a world, a world that won’t let you go until it has finished telling you what it wants you to know.
To cover place first, the setting is inspired by the Victoria Baths in Manchester, but Caroline has moved them to North Wales! The swimming bath setting adds to the novel on a number of levels. Firstly it provides the water (real or unreal) that drives a lot of the narrative and is symbolic of transformation, redemption and healing, but the building also holds the characters in a kind of cocoon making incursions from the outside world seem more significant. (You can read a note from Caroline about the real Victoria Baths right at the end of the book.)
I also love the little snippets of ‘real life’ news and weather forecasts that intersperse the chapters, like this:
‘Flintshire, Wrexham, Denbighshire, the Wirral and Greater Manchester are also subject to heavy rain warnings. With this level of rainfall continuing throughout today and conditions expected to worsen, the Met Office said it would be likely to extend its warnings into next week. So, looks like we best get building our arks. And back to the studio . . .’
They ground the narrative to the real world, whilst at the same time, making it more other-worldly.
Arthur Braxton is a likeable character and easy to empathise with. Choosing an adolescent male voice with which to narrate was a bold move, but it really pays off and Arthur’s world of FaceBook mishaps and family misery feel very authentic. And as he is sucked more deeply into the world of the baths and its inhabitants, we experience all the associated sensations and emotions with him.
For me though, the voice of Laurel, the female character who begins to narrate the book is equally strong and in many ways it feels like it’s as much her story as it is Arthur’s. In fact, the balance between the two main points of view proves ultimately both effective and heartbreaking.
If you’ve read any of Caroline’s previous books you’ll know to expect beautiful use of language, a unique world view and a moving emotional journey. If you haven’t, come to it fresh and prepare to be blown away!
You can read my reviews of Caroline’s previous books here.
You can buy The Drowning Of Arthur Braxton here.