Skip to main content

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton

Caroline Smailes (The Friday Project 2013, Hardcover) 367 pages

There is a wonderful piece of dialogue about three-quarters of the way through this fanciful, yet touchingly realistic novel. The water nymph Delphina, in attempting to understand human love says the following:

When you fall in love with someone, I reckon it's like they become your unicorn...And when they're your unicorn, you believe in them, in their beauty. You believe in them being the most precious, the most fragile person ever created.

Well yes, exactly. When any of us falls in love all those possibilities that were felt so impossible for you and me; dreams for us, reality for other people who are not us, suddenly they are real. The mythic is real at last and all one ever wants to do for the rest of one's life is protect that person from anything. After all, if you woke up one morning to find a unicorn munching away at the daffodils and moon drops in your garden, wouldn't you want to protect it? Surely you would never want to call in the media or negotiate a sale to the London Zoo, or would you? If you would, I regret to say your imagination was burnt to a crisp long ago and this book is not for you. If you still believe in love and allow its mists to cloud your mind in pleasant colours, then oh, I think you will quite love The Drowning of Arthur Braxton.

The story takes place almost entirely within The Oracle, a decaying bathhouse built somewhere in the late Victorian or Edwardian era in North Wales. In the modern day, it is now run by three water healers who deliver individual psychic healing to the emotionally distressed. Well at least that's their story and they're sticking to it. As I have already referred to a water nymph, you may well assume there is more to it than that and for once in your life, your assumption is correct. Well done!

The magic of Caroline Smailes' story is the interweave of the bleak reality of the virtually abandoned adolescents Laurel, who comes to work at The Oracle and Arthur Braxton who stumbles into the bathhouse some years later, after the water healers have closed up shop and the building is to be sold to the obligatory soulless American investors who intend to turn it into one of those cheerily lit yet ultimately dreary expensive spas for people who can't turn down that extra fat slice of cheesecake but at least want to pretend they're doing something about it. Laurel is sent out to work at age 14 so her mother can collect the money and maintain her non-career of shagging every man in sight. Arthur seeks to scape the school bullies and also his home, where his father sits silent and drunk ever since his wife left him for an old flame she met on Facebook. Both Laurel and Arthur escape to the waters of The Oracle.

Smailes has an incredible imagination, both in plot and structure. While one has to admit to guessing where all this was leading fairly early on, that sort of 'beating the detective to the solution' did not harm the enjoyment in the least. Narrative voices take their turn, amongst the two adolescents, Delphinia and others. Most delightfully, some of the short chapters are in verse, while others are presented in play form, complete with stage directions. That was really rather a fun thing to do and breaks up any possible monotony.

The other clever device is that the various sections are introduced with short, mock news pieces discussing a torrential rain and flooding that is drowning the UK for the three weeks of the novel's main action. It is a clever wink to the reader. Some see water as a disaster; yet looked at another way, as in the magical waters of The Oracle, it can be a way to freedom. And so it is – The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is a sweet and sly read for those who believe in ways to freedom.

Be seeing you.  


Popular posts from this blog

The Blocks by Karl Parkinson

The Blocks

Karl Parkinson (New Binary Press 2016, Trade Paperback) 274 pages, cover price N/A

There's a tremendous irony in our lives you know, and it is one as large and predominant as the oxygen we breathe yet equally as invisible, equally ignored; an irony as imperceptible as the blood within our veins that itself only comes to our notice when the skin breaks and the blood trickles free before we hide the wound with a bandage and secure the blood back where it belongs. That irony is this: Our most basic desire, expressed in equal parts of hope and fear, is that we want to continue to live. And why? Because we want our individual lives to be different than what they are.
Karl Parkinson's first novel, The Blocks is a mad, tragic, stylish and daring exploration into that self-same need to survive and yet to change. The Blocks of the title themselves are neither those of the prison nor a child's alphabet; at least not literally although the reader may rightly infer those meta…

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada edition 2016, Hard Cover) 197 pages, $29.95 cover price
We have to talk about the concept first. Oh I had a long and lively internal debate about it, you can be sure of that. After all, all books have concepts that we accept without too much fuss – talking animals, sentient corpses, thought-filled trees, the whole Harrod's bought stuffed menagerie of Winnie the Pooh carrying on like a picnic gathering of the British Women's Institute with special invited guests from the Royal Society of St George – we accept all of those without too much fuss. I've even admitted to sniffing up a tear or two over The Brave Little Toaster, so if one can be moved by a bloody kitchen appliance then why not a sentient foetus as the central character of Ian McEwan's Nutshell?It probably won't surprise you that I have a theory to go with that, slightly more substantial than an amuse-bouche if not quite a meal in itself. My thinking is that we go with the ta…

White and Red Cherries by Tanja Tuma

White and Red Cherries: A Slovenian Civil War Novel

Tanja Tuma (Self-published 2016, Trade paperback) 301 pages with glossary and bibliography, cover price n/a
It dawned on me like a thunder strikes a tree: this petite young girl embodies a mission, her reason to exist. Every one of us embodies his mission by what he does. We are what we do. Not chemical elements, but our deeds define our being. We are neither the faith we trust in God, nor the love we give and take. The least of what we are is the genetic code we get from our parents, which in turn lives on in our descendants. No. We are what we do at this moment in this bloody world. Our deeds can defy eternity. They can mirror our will and freedom forever. Those words are thoughts by the elderly Martin, born during the Second World War and raised by the partisan heroine Valeria Batič as her son, when his natural mother Ada quite literally tossed her baby from a train window to Valeria as the train pulled out for Vienna. Ada you see w…