Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Small Madness

Dianne Touchell

Allen & Unwin


May 2015


I don’t think I’ve read a book with such intense and compelling emotional momentum since Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade (and that’s going back a bit).
If you want to read an authentically Young Adult book about an unwanted and wilfully denied pregnancy, with a vividly harrowing outcome, then this is that book.
Except in the rawness of its engagement with the reader, it is very different from the novel I compared it with above. Touchell writes as an unfashionable ominiscient all-observing narrator. Her writing is flawless and often verbally exciting in the best poetic sense. But the language is always being used for dramatic purpose, not for decoration. It conveys mood, atmosphere and character.
I could ‘see’ every character in this book extremely vividly.
There are three main characters: The lovers, Rose and Michael, and Rose’s very different friend Liv, who is in some ways the most sympathetic character in the book. But the supporting roles are just as important. Michael’s brother, Tim, and the authoritarian, church-going father. Rose’s mother. Liv’s mother.
It is difficult to write much about the story without giving spoilers – suffice to say that everything that happens is horribly real and believable.
It’s a five-star recommendation for sure.


David Owen



May 2015


This is an extraordinarily powerful and emotionally raw debut novel. Very highly recommended.
It’s a story about how the main character, Derrick, feels his own mental stability unhinging under the cumulative impact of his sister’s suicidal depression.
Even at the start of the book all is not well. He is dangerously overweight (18 stone) and scavenging in bins to feed his hunger for comfort food.
As the book develops, things get progressively worse.
Owen is brilliant at conveying Derrick’s sense of betrayal when his best friend makes out with the girl (a longtime family acquaintance) he had always hoped would be his alone.
The panther of the title refers to a large black cat, stalked by Derrick in the allotments near to his house. This hunting ground becomes the arena for confrontations as powerfully charged as scenes in the work of Robert Cormier, Kevin Brooks and David Almond. (I don’t make such comparisons lightly.)
The sister, Charlotte, is central to the work but never centre stage. The novel is intense, but not overbearingly claustrophobic. Derrick’s perverse sense of humour provides a certain levity even in the darkest moments. And make no mistake, the book _is_ very dark.
The only thing preventing me from giving it 5 stars is its opening paragraph, which very nearly made me put the book aside (such is the number of books that bid for my attention). “The cookie broke apart in his mouth like smashed concrete.” Not only does this not work as a stand-alone simile, but it becomes irrational in the following sentence. “It was so stale that his saliva turned it into glue and his teeth stuck together.” What kind of saliva does the boy have, for goodness sake, that it is capable of turning concrete into glue?
There are occasional instances where words jammed against my ear (the repetition of the word ‘cut’ three times in six lines across the bottom of p132 and the top of p133) but otherwise this is a very well-written, well-structured novel, and I hope it gets the reception and recognition it deserves.

The Many Lives Of Ruby Iyer

LAxmi Hariharan

Jacaranda Press


Nov 2014


Despite being poorly copy-edited and overlong – at just under 300 pages it is not a very long novel but could usefully have lost at least 50 of those pages and been all the better for it – I did enjoy this book, especially its first half, during which the emphasis is on Ruby and her apparently gay flatmate Pankaj. The repartee between these two is very well done. Later, when Ruby does her female Robocop turn of saving Bombay from a gang of teenage terrorists (with echoes of the 26/11 Mumbai massacres), the novel runs into action overdrive and the focus shifts to Ruby’s relationship with two older testosterone rich men.
Early on in the book Ruby is molested on a railway station by a Hand, and pushed off the platform onto the live wire in the path of an approaching train. She is dramatically saved but carries the physical and emotional scars of this experience throughout the novel. Emblematic of the strength she draws from having survived such an experience is the tree-branch-like scar on her back, tattooed into her by the electrical charge from the live rail, which stirs into life whenever she is in danger and gives her computer-game-like powers.
Hariharan writes vividly and evokes the metro-city life of modern Bombay extremely well. Although I read the book in print form, the author (who has had a career in marketing) has been active in promoting its Kindle ebook format, which is currently available for just 99p. The print edition is £6.95.
It’s a YA rather than adult action novel but not at all ‘teeny’. A sequel is in preparation.