I wasn’t too sure how I would deal with reading ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ by Anne Peile when I found out that the main plot of the story would be incest. Something about the very idea of it made me feel rather uncomfortable before even opening the first page. It’s odd I had this reaction because I am the first to say that I do think that reading shouldn’t always be a comfortable experience and so bearing that in mind I opened the pages and started it. I am glad that I risked the subject matter because, whilst uncomfortable, Anne Peile’s debut novel is very accomplished and holds much promise for her future works.
Susanna, the main protagonist of ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’, is a rather quiet and subdued young woman. Growing up with an overbearing mother, rebellious sister who her grandmother much prefers over Susanna and lets her know as much, the one thing missing from her life is her father who we learn left when Susanna was very young. What starts off as general inquisitiveness soon becomes an obsession that leads to a rather dark opening of the book from the first line. “The first time I kissed my father on the mouth it was the Easter holiday.” From the very start we know we are in rather unchartered territory and from here on Anne Peile takes us on a rather a dark journey of Susanna from that point, whilst also taking us through her past.
I am sure many people will be put off the book, as I admit I was a little, from the subject this book brings up. Yet I have to say Anne Peile writes fantastically and really gets into the mindset of her leading character. In many ways it makes the story all the darker that a girl who you start of thinking is rather innocent and lost becomes more and more deceitful and manipulative as the book goes on, for her father has no clue that the woman he is having an affair with, behind his wife Olive’s back, is his own flesh and blood. You know from the very start of the book this is dark territory and as the book goes on things get worse and worse.
Despite its generally dark tone there is, interestingly enough, also great humour in this book. The people that Susanna meets once she starts to work in 1970’s Chelsea are a mixed bunch of ‘free loving’ spirits, and the women in her home territory of Clapham and the gossip and foul mouthed tittle-tattle they come out with is hilarious. It nicely adds a sense of place and atmosphere in the book, whilst breaking up the darkness with some light and often saucy blunt relief.
‘Here it comes.’ The bench women were nodding at a younger woman who was entering, pulling her wash behind her in a basket on wheels. Her heels tapped on the mosaic and her newly dressed hair was swept back and lacquered into curls. She eyed the seated women critically for a moment and then said to one, ‘Blimey, close your legs, girl, your meats smelling.’
The other women guffawed and the superintendent clicked her tongue in disapproval.
Alison said, ‘They’re such dirty old bags in here, they make me sick. Come on, lets go and tap the phone instead while the wash is doing.’
‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ is a dark and tightly woven ‘coming of age’ tale with a huge twist and one that could lose it some of the audience that I think it deserves. It’s also a very hard book to write about because its short and not knowing what’s coming makes the pay off all the greater. It’s not always comfortable, it gets pretty bleak, and yet it’s written in such a way that you find yourself turning the pages, often despite yourself, up until the final word. It’s a very accomplished debut novel, with one of the best first narrative voices I have read for some time – even if she is a bit bonkers and rather unreliable, that I would recommend people give a try… just brace yourself a little first. 8.5/10
This book was kindly sent by the publisher.
The Orange long list is proving most fruitful (do you see what I did there) in pushing forward books that I would not necessarily have rushed to read. It’s also making me ask a lot of questions about my own reading habits and attitudes. Have you ever been put off by a book because of its subject matter, and if so which one? Has anyone else given ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ a go, what did you think? Anyone now tempted on reading it at some point?