Bloomsbury, £11.99 Order for £10.89 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Scissors, Paper, Stone, By Elizabeth Day
Dark secrets sensitively dissected
Tuesday 01 February 2011
Elizabeth Day's debut novel examines a father-daughter relationship that breaches natural boundaries. While comatose Charles languishes in hospital, his emotionally repressed wife, Anne, and defensive daughter, Charlotte, grapple with difficult relationships they have previously ignored. The novel flits between the present and the characters' past, cementing cracks to provide a full picture of a disturbed family.
Day is adept at conveying Anne's onion layers, from curt, critical outer persona to inner yearning for her bullying husband's affection. Anne's awareness of the discrepancy between her behaviour and emotions is evident – she loathes her own whining and carping. Charlotte, too, is drawn skilfully as a woman terrified of relinquishing control over her secrets. The evocation of her first dark memory of her father's behaviour, together with the disconnected numbness she felt at the time, is convincing. The interaction between mother and daughter, fraught with tension and misunderstanding, bristles with festering resentment.
But Day lapses with language. "Rolling eyes" convey frustration three times. "An approximation of lust" and "an approximation of bliss" both crop up. It is also hard to believe in the overwhelming love Anne feels for Charlotte, given her barrage of embittered comments. While it's plausible that she doesn't demonstrate love, her hostility hints at untackled resentment.
Day is too keen to spell things out. After Charles proposed to Anne, he kissed her head "as though it was a reward". We don't need her to analyse the meaning of gestures. And details can be banal, superfluous when not adding to the atmosphere. Day tells us, when someone drinks coffee, "she could feel the hot liquid slide down her throat".
There is also a discrepancy of tense. The prologue starts in the present tense from Charles's viewpoint, switches to Anne's in the past tense, then to Charlotte's in the present. The rest of the novel is related in the past tense, even after it overtakes the time the prologue occurred. It's an illogical oversight that adds to the sense of a rushed novel.
Yet, in many ways, Scissors, Paper, Stone is a brave and thoughtful book. It broaches a taboo that is too often sensationalised and packaged with queasily emotive titles. As an attempt to analyse the dysfunctional web of relationships within an outwardly normal family, it's a courageous and sensitive story.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election
- 2 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 Naomi Wolf reacts to Isis 'conspiracy theories' critism after she questions whether beheading videos are real
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times