It’s a pleasure today to share my review of Someone Close To Home by Alex Craigie – not a new book for once, but published in December 2016, and available in paperback, for kindle and as an audiobook. The copy I read was my own, purchased for kindle via Amazon.
The Narberth Book Fair is fast approaching (you can read my post about it here), and I had the pleasure of meeting Alex when I attended last year. Although I often avoid books set in nursing or care homes (for obvious personal reasons), I was particularly intrigued by this book – the author spoke about it with such passion, and a recommendation by Judith Barrow made me add it to my kindle. And I’ll certainly be listening to Judith’s recommendations again – this book was one of the most memorable I’ve read this year, and deserves a far wider readership.
Talented pianist Megan Youngblood has it all – fame, fortune and Gideon.
But Gideon isn’t good enough for Megan’s ambitious, manipulative mother, whose meddling has devastating repercussions for Megan and for those close to her.
Now, trapped inside her own body, she is unable to communicate her needs or fears as she faces institutional neglect in an inadequate care home.
And she faces Annie. Sadistic Annie who has reason to hate her. Damaged Annie who shouldn’t work with vulnerable people.
Just how far will Annie go?
Someone Close To Home is a story of love, malice and deadly menace.
This book was a real surprise – quite beautifully written, telling a compelling and disturbing story, with the most stunning characterisation. The book opens with Megan watching the clock, dreading what is to come, taking in her surroundings, and remembering the damage her mother did to her life. And from there, the story gently alternates – Megan looking back on significant moments through her life, and the present day in a care home where threat and danger steadily escalates.
Megan’s history is fascinating, sometimes shocking, and has the vividness of a memoir – her manipulative and selfish mother, her refuge in childhood friendship with Gideon, her life as a concert pianist, her horrendous marriage, the support of friends – but the story always returns to the home in the present day, where she is desperately vulnerable, unable to move or speak following a stroke.
Life within the home is astonishingly real, and fortunately outside my experience – but the portrayal of the various “carers”, the good, the bad and the indifferent, is exceptional. And then there’s Annie, with whom she shares some history – cruel, sadistic, slightly unhinged, in a position of power and with a score to settle. Heavens, she’s terrifying – her return to the home is awaited through much of the book, and the reality is perhaps worse than the anticipation.
In many ways, this book defies categorisation. There’s powerful social comment with the theme of institutional neglect, inadequate supervision, underpaid carers doing the minimum possible and forgetting that those in their care are individuals, carelessness veering into appalling cruelty – and that scenario, based on inescapable reality, then acquires an edge of terror. It’s impossible not to have an extreme emotional response – but it’s never overplayed. It’s undoubtedly right to describe the book as literary fiction, but there’s romance there too, and domestic drama – and a mounting and inescapable tension worthy of the best psychological thriller.
There were times I had to put the book down, when everything became too much to bear – and that only testifies to the tremendous strength of the writing. The author has the ability to make you feel, and feel deeply – both the rare moments of joy and pleasure (yes, there are a few) and a despair and impotence about every casual act of cruelty. Her descriptive powers are exceptional, a strong sense of place with the most powerful imagery, involving all the senses – and there’s a strong contrast between Megan’s former lifestyle of the rich and famous and the detailed descriptions of The Yews, her life confined within a down-at-heel room with broken furniture and within the constraints of her own body.
The ending, when it came, really took me by considerable surprise: the pace suddenly increases, and it made my heart beat considerably faster. Is it ultimately uplifting? I’m not really sure, when so much has gone before. But I do know that this was a remarkable book that everyone should add to their reading list – I’d recommend it without reservation.
About the author (from the Narberth Book Fair website)
Born in Sunderland, in the north of England, Alex has drifted southwards finally coming to rest over thirty years ago in a peaceful village between Pembroke and Tenby in south west Wales.
She lives in an old, draughty house with stone walls 2’ thick and knows she’s really lucky to have all her children and grandchildren living close by. It’s often chaotic and noisy but these are her most treasured moments and she savours them – even if she’s reduced to an immovable heap after they’ve gone.
When not writing, reading or simply enjoying the rural life, she’s in the garden waging a war of attrition against the brambles that are encouraged in the hedges for birds to nest in, vicious nettles that support a variety of butterflies, and bindweed that looks lovely but doesn’t share nicely with the other plants.
She hasn’t inherited the ‘pleasure in housework’ gene.
She looks forward to any contact from fellow lovers of books and any honest feedback is very welcome. You can reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org