Thursday 28 September 2017

Lily Poole - Jack O'Donnell

Everything about John is off-kilter.

He’s sixteen now, out of school and out of work. It’s the early 1970s: shipyards in Clydebank are no longer hiring and a long stretch on the dole is imminent. But on a day when the town is covered by a deluge of snow, his life is changed by an act of kindness: he helps a wee girl, Lily, get to school on time.

She waits for him to meet her outside the school gates every day, but he seems to be the only one who can see her. This provokes a backlash that ripples out from concerned mothers at school to the parish priest of St Stephen’s and invites institutional responses that involve the police and psychiatric care.

The unspoken hope is that John can be ‘cured’ of what has seduced him. But Lily has bled into other parts of John’s family life, in a novel which is an exploration of the physical and the psychological, of spiritual crises and the occult.

Dark, haunting, and told by alternating narrators, Lily Poole disrupts your assumptions about mental health and who can be trusted when the truth becomes threadbare.

What did I think?

I've really struggled to review Lily Poole; not because I didn't like it, but because I'm not really sure what I've read...and perhaps that is the whole point.  With mental health being the underlying theme, you're never sure what version of reality you're being shown and I was really impressed with Jack O'Donnell's ability to create this purposeful confusion in his debut novel.

The 1970's in Scotland pretty much mirrors the same era in the North East of England as the lifeblood of the region is slowly dying with the imminent closure of the shipyards, leaving men out of work and school leavers with no job prospects.  This is exactly the case for the main character, John, who is at a loose end and has no purpose in life until he notices a young girl, Lily, clinging to the railings afraid to cross the icy road to school.  John befriends Lily and makes sure that he is there every day to see her safely across the road to school, but the mums taking their children to school report John for hanging around the school and watching the children.  John is confused as he is simply helping Lily, and can't understand why the mothers and the police can't see that...but that's because only John can see Lily.  

There seemed to be several different versions of John: the almost child-like innocent John who trudged through the snow to help an invisible girl to school and the volatile teenager whose family are not sure what he is capable of.  This wasn't a book I raced through as it was very dark in places but equally tender in others.  Jack O'Donnell is definitely one to watch out for as he has an amazingly divergent writing style: so dark and vivid, yet so tender and dreamlike.  An impressive debut novel.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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