Writing thoughts on ‘True Things About Me’ by Deborah Kay Davies brings up the interesting question of ‘how come if I managed to read a book in one sitting am I left feeling both impressed and appalled by it at the same time?’ In fact the more I have thought about it, the more I have wondered if that was just the author’s very aim.
One of Deborah Kay Davies most powerful tools in her debut novel is to have a nameless narrator. In fact the narrator of ‘True Things About Me’ isn’t just nameless; she is really a blank canvas. This means that whatever horrendous things befall her there is a distance between us and her, a space for us to put our own feelings and emotions. It’s a risky manoeuvre for an author; people might find the character cold or have to work a little bit harder rather than put themselves in that persons place. Add short chapters and sparse threatening prose and, like with this novel, the risk pays off – you have your reader hooked.
When we meet this unnamed woman she is working as a benefits officer with a night out to the cinema with a colleague, and best friend, Alison later that evening. That is all we know about her before one of the claimants comes in, flirts with her, waits for her outside of work and drags her off for a quick risky sexual encounter in a car park before bundling her off into a taxi. It is this moment that she seems to have been waiting for, this is the moment of her undoing. Afterwards, even though she knows she shouldn’t, she searches him out and lets him into her life again, something she will regret as it only brings obsession and abuse.
“I’d put his address in a kitchen drawer. It was the one I kept my sharp knives in.”
There is a real sense of threat throughout the book from the moment that this blonde curly haired mystery man enters her life. We know as little about him as we do her, in fact weirdly as the book goes on you feel you know her parents, best friend Alison and Grandma better than you do the person telling you the story, but then they are the observers and the outsiders to her so they should be to us, especially as she goes on isolating them the further into a breakdown she goes.
“I looked at the sleeping tablets on the bedside table. I’d emptied them out of their plastic strips and put them in a little bowl. It was funny how they looked like the courtesy mints you get offered in some restaurants. I picked up the bowl and offered it to my reflection. Do have some, won’t you? I said in the voice of Judith Chalmers, my gran’s favourite travel presenter. Take a handful, feel free! I promised myself that after I’d looked at my poor coat properly I’d take some and sleep for days. I walked around the room, and read my magazine for a bit. I’d bought it because of the caption on the front cover, announcing and article about a woman who’d been knocked out by a frozen over chip.”
I realised I have made this book sound really, really dark and depressing. In many ways it is yet it’s the compelling nature of the story, her obsession becomes the reader’s addiction as she becomes more and more outlandish, that keeps you reading along. There are also some big scenes of humour which make you laugh out loud along with feeling rather mortified. For example there is a scene in a bakery when she is babysitting which made me laugh loudly and also a blind date which she is sent on by Alison and her husband which proves to be a drunken mortifying experience.
“I felt as if I were disintegrating. I struggled to dress but I was shaking too much to do it properly. My bare bottom squeaked like a frightened mouse against the car seat. I shoved my bra in my bag. I put my pants on back to front. My clothes had lost their magical properties. The lake was blank, its surface corrugated with little waves. No stars. Rain started to thump against the windshield. Then he drove me home. Once or twice he tried to make conversation. The windscreen wipers grated against the window. A snake of laughter kept wriggling in my throat but I swallowed it down.”
The only slight issue of ‘True Things About Me’ was the lack of background. I wondered just why she had randomly had sex with this man (I know it can just happen, I am no prude), the fact that I never quite got the answer did rather niggle at me I have to say. Maybe it was just one of those inexplicable moments of chemistry, maybe it was something she had been lacking in childhood something psychological, or maybe she was simply bored? I would have just liked that to have been a little clearer as with knowing her motivation would possibly have come more understanding.
‘True Things About Me’ isn’t a comfortable book, it is one that should you start will have you gripped to its inconclusive but very dramatic dénouement. It’s a book that leaves you with a real variety of emotions and possible endless questions. You will be angry, shocked and rather appalled – possibly because you laughed along the way on occasion. I am still not sure whether I liked the experience or not, but I feel that’s exactly what Deborah Kay Davies wanted to achieve, and indeed she has. 7.5/10
This book was kindly sent by the publisher.
This was one of the titles mentioned in the Culture Shows ’12 Debut Novelists’ which I mentioned here. So far, on the whole this list has been a great one. I have a few more reviews from these novels coming up soonish, have you read any of the others? Have you read this and if so what did you think? It’s definitely a book of questions (in fact Fleur Fishers review shows this perfectly) which was the last book that really made you think?