It’s a real pleasure today to be sharing my review of Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge, the latest book from Louise Walters Books, and due for publication on 26th September for kindle and in paperback. Despite that official publication date, I’m delighted to tell you that the paperback is already available for purchase, both via Amazon and the publisher’s website (signed, with “extras”, and postage free in the UK). My thanks to Louise for my advance reading e-copy, provided for review.
I eagerly look forward to every new publication from this exceptional new small publisher. Having thoroughly enjoyed Louise’s own books – you’ll find my review of A Life Between Us here, and The Road to California here – she’s certainly already shown that she has the perfect eye for those books that might be overlooked (quite unforgivably) by larger publishers. Her stated aim is “to publish only the very best in adult literary and literary/commercial fiction, across all genres” – and my goodness, she’s certainly more than achieving that, and with considerable style.
Let’s take a closer look – beyond that wonderfully evocative cover – at Diana Cambridge’s debut:
1960s New York, and Emma Bowden seems to have it all – a glamorous Manhattan apartment, a loving husband, and a successful writing career. But while Emma and her husband Jonathan are on vacation at the Hamptons, a child drowns in the sea, and suspicion falls on Emma. As her picture-perfect life spirals out of control, and old wounds resurface, a persistent and monotonous voice in Emma’s head threatens to destroy all that she has worked for…
Taut, elegant and mesmerising, Don’t Think a Single Thought lays bare a marriage, and a woman, and examines the decisions – and mistakes – which shape all of our lives.
I glanced back through this book before writing my review, having entirely convinced myself that it was written in the first person – and was then surprised to see that it wasn’t, but that’s the impression it creates. It’s extraordinarily intimate, desperately painful, and has an intensity of emotion I’ve rarely encountered – but at the same time, there’s a haziness and imprecision about its characters and events, as if seen through a veil. I have a passion for unreliable narrators, but this was unlike anything I’ve read before – time becomes fluid, years pass unnoticed, events are reinterpreted and become distorted.
Emma lives a life of immense privilege, with a surfeit of material possessions, but an absence of love: she has a creative talent, but constantly balances on the edge as depression takes a grip, her reactions numbed by the drugs she depends on. Her life started rather differently – a deprived childhood, an “accident” that had a profound impact on her life, a foster family she couldn’t wait to leave behind. Death rather stalks her – that early event becomes clear, the others remain less precise when seen through her distorted lens.
Emma doesn’t just draw your eye – she mesmerises you. She’s difficult to engage with, to grasp firmly – but she has you with her from the first page to the last, unable to look away. There’s a cast of supporting characters, all strongly drawn – her husband, her agent, her friendships and relationships, her siblings, the domestic staff – and outside Emma’s increasingly isolated existence with its echoes from the past, life goes on. Every encounter is seen through her eyes and from her perspective. Material facts are hinted at, left with a question mark attached – others are clear, but then disappear behind Emma’s smoke and mirrors.
The sense of time and place is exceptional – 1960s and 1970s Manhattan and the Hamptons, the parties, the fashions, the food, the fashions. The writing is exquisite and compelling – taut and spare, never a word wasted. And the book is short – but it’s as long as it needs to be. I thought it was simply wonderful – one of my books of the year.
About the author
Diana lives in Bath. She is a journalist, tutor, editor, radio presenter, and Agony Aunt to Writing Magazine.