Turbulence, by Jan Mark

Posthumous gift brings the highs and lows of a loving family
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The Independent Culture

Unpublished at the time of her sudden and premature death in January, Turbulence is a telling reminder of the quirky but masterly writer we have lost in Jan Mark. Unafraid to criticise her peers for not working hard enough at their own styles, she possessed one of the strongest personal voices in modern children's fiction. Although nothing much happens in this novel, aimed somewhere between a teenage and a young-adult audience, she still manages to create a page-turning story without ever selling its characters short or descending into melodrama.

Turbulence starts with the arrival of Sandor and Ali Harker, a potentially glamourous middle-aged couple who have developed a bad habit of dragging others into their marital disputes. Clay, the tall, shy and sensitive 16-year-old narrator, nearly gets caught up in their domestic dramas. Her mother becomes more dangerously involved and others start getting sucked in too.

Faced by a situation threatening to spin out of control, Clay and her younger brother and sister react in different ways. Too shy to confront her parents directly, Clay resorts to accusing looks and heavy hints, leaving her otherwise wordless younger brother to shatter an uneasy silence. And 11-year-old Rosie keeps up a torrent of self-pitying whining, oblivious to the tempests around her.

Mark had little time for the unsophisticated, and this story contains occasionally obscure literary and film references. But there is plenty of humour in a story that in its depiction of the highs and lows of an otherwise loving family often reads like an Alan Ayckbourn adaptation of Desperate Housewives. Rosie, for example, is surely one of the most obnoxious pre-adolescents ever created.

Mark's language sparkles throughout, not always a common experience in a teenage market where length of narrative can seem more important than skill. There is a lovely passage about the first bus of the day, "brightly lit and roaring down the main road". Other wryly clever observations of modern life, mostly as witnessed by Clay, also come over as fresh and convincing.

Author of 50 novels, ranging from science fiction to contemporary stories like this one, Mark showed no signs of slowing down in her 63rd year. Sticking to stand-alone novels, she had no time for the more lucrative series market. She remains a beacon of light for all authors drawn to the idea of writing on their own, strictly individual terms.

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