Published: 15th November 2018
Started reading: February 12
Finished reading: February 18
Trigger warnings: Suicide, drugs, sexual references
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, an exquisite history of hidden Deptford and, ultimately, the solution to their crises.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this book. While I can say it was highly imaginative, original and well-written, I struggled to develop a proper connection with it for most of the way, so ultimately I will put this down as a book that I appreciated more than I enjoyed.
The story centres upon three principal characters. Anne is a recovering drug addict; Sam is a young gay man who has just moved to the area. They seem to have nothing in common, but are eventually brought together by their relationship with Deborah, a mysterious old woman with many stories to tell about her long life as a seamstress.
All of them are lost souls and their stories become interwoven in a way that perfectly reflects the book’s cover. The theme of loneliness radiates powerfully from each storyline and is told skilfully through the author’s metaphorical writing style, especially with Deborah’s tale.
The book switches between the points of view of all three characters. They are each told at a relatively slow pace, and I found them interesting without ever being truly captivating. Deborah was definitely the most intriguing and I enjoyed the subtle hints of magical realism, but there were only sporadic moments in all three storylines that had me gripped.
One of the main problems here was the supporting characters. Although they helped to raise some of the book’s key themes, especially assisted dying and suicide, they were mostly unlikable and did not seriously enhance the plot. I found Derek (Sam’s love interest) interesting and complex, so he is an exception, but I did not enjoy reading about any of the others.
The setting is totally synonymous with this book, and that creates the most lasting memory. I liked how the author created a great sense of atmosphere by making contemporary London feel eerie and somewhat oppressive. It is described in great and impressive detail, and that the author is from Deptford adds extra weight to this portrayal. It is like we are seeing Deptford through his eyes.
Overall, this is a thoughtful and well written piece of contemporary literature, and I can certainly understand why it has received a lot of positive reviews. For that reason I very much regret that I didn’t like it more, but the plot and the pace of the storytelling just failed to captivate me.
Born and raised in South London, West Camel previously worked as an editor in higher education in business before turning his hand to becoming an author and reviewer.
Attend is his debut novel, and there was lots to appreciate in his eloquent and thoughtful writing. He also works as an editor for Orenda Publishing, also writing short scripts that have been produced at fringe theatres in London.
There are a lot of very good things to say about this book, and I really admire the writing. However, the pace and aspects of the plot were just not for me. I realise this is an unpopular opinion!
My rating: ⭐⭐.5