My first thoughts when reading this book are that there is something uncomfortably close to reality that makes this novel so compelling. Though dark, twisted and burdened with an inconceivable truth that makes your hairs stand on end; there is unfortunately a sickening truth that could be true to real experiences. Anorexia, rape and brutal attacks; though I do not want to give anything away, I have to mention how well Dugdall addresses such difficult subjects.
This novel is about Sam; a seventeen year old girl living in the ‘Ana ward’ and who is dangerously close to ‘oblivion’ – a state she succumbed to after the brutal attack on her sister, 18 months ago. Dreadful secrets and lies block her path to recovery, and after receiving a box of photos from her sister, it is time for Sam to open up if she wants any chance of surviving. After hearing of the death of her mother, Sam begins therapy sessions with Clive, the director of the ward, in order to come to terms with the truth behind her sisters attack.
I adored this novel. I enjoyed the narrative structure as it constantly flicks back and forth between Sam’s flashbacks through the use of the photographs, and the present, depicting the disorders her and the other girls on the ward struggle with each day. I fell in love with Sam’s character. I sensed a naivety about her; in her flashbacks, she shows an angry and desperate need for justice that pushes her to do what she has to do, despite the potential repercussions and the pressing issues of her developing eating disorder. Dugdall filters bits of information to us slowly; it is this clever tactic of the slow reveal that forces us to keep reading, desperate for her to tie up lose ends. I also enjoyed the writing. Dugdall does really well to describe the estate near where Sam and her family live; the fish and chip show near where Jenna was attacked… I could image precisely where it all took place.
“Orwell Estate was built in the seventies, a limp ambition of flat roofs and plate glass, where thin terraces from the last century got boxed in by maisonettes, blacks crammed together in a dip in the world. It was just a few streets from my home, near enough for us to use the same local shops, near enough to hear the ambulance sirens outside Our plaice.’ – (Not the most exciting of quotes to use as example, but I enjoyed the description).
One thing I found about this novel, however, was I was desperate to know more about a few of the other characters, in particular, Pearl. She comes to the Ana ward halfway through the narrative. We do not find out much about her, apart from she is very sick; her hair is balding, and she fakes her period in order for the nurses to get off her case. She’s innocent and sweet and Sam feels a bond with her that makes Pearl’s health more important to her than her own. I’d like to know what her story is.
I’m thrilled to have read this book. It ticked a lot of the boxes that I look for in a novel, and I will be adding more of Ruth Dugdall’s novels to my list.