I am very excited to be a part of the blog tour for The Song Of Isolation by Michael J. Malone. Having read his most recent book earlier this year, I expected this to be a powerful one and it did not disappoint!
Thank you very much to Anne Cater for my place on the tour, and Orenda Books for providing a free electronic copy.
Published: 17th July 2020
Genre: General Fiction/Thriller
Film star Amelie Hart is the darling of the silver screen, appearing on the front pages of every newspaper. But at the peak of her fame she throws it all away for a regular guy with an ordinary job. The gossip columns are aghast: what happened to the woman who turned heads wherever she went?
Any hope the furore will die down are crushed when Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. Dave strongly asserts his innocence, and when Amelie refuses to denounce him, the press witch hunt quickly turns into physical violence, and she has to flee the country.
While Dave is locked up with the most depraved men in the country and Amelie is hiding on the continent, Damaris, the victim at the centre of the story, is isolated – a child trying to make sense of an adult world.
This is a raw and immensely compelling book that has the power to stir a truly extraordinary range of emotions from start to finish. Multi-layered and told from an arresting trio of contrasting perspectives, it is superbly written and deeply impactful, such is the profound and detailed way in which it handles a number of highly sensitive topics.
There is rarely a dull moment throughout, which is largely down to the power of the plot and how easy it is to become fully invested in the characters and their respective plights. The richness of the storytelling, the various settings, and the differing circumstances of each protagonist all combine to make this a very difficult one to put down, with tension and atmosphere rife until virtually the last page.
Amelie Hart is a famous actress who appeared in four major films and already seemed to be some way along the path towards a glittering career, only for her to disappear suddenly from the public eye after suffering a traumatic ordeal at the hands of a stalker. Five years on, she has retreated to Scotland, where she has settled down with her boyfriend Dave and retains very few contacts from her old life.
But one evening, they receive a knock on the door and Dave is arrested and charged with sexually assaulting Damaris Brown, an 11-year-old girl who lives next door. A stunned Dave strongly protests his innocence, but nobody is inclined to believe him except for his parents and Amelie, so he is duly held on remand alongside some of the most evil and depraved offenders.
His connection to Amelie means that the case receives significant media coverage, and she is vilified by the press and the public for standing by Dave, leaving her with no option but to flee the country. At the same time, Damaris is left confused and isolated by everything that has happened, unsure of who she can trust and increasingly suspicious of the people around her.
While I was expecting a powerful and at times unsettling read, I perhaps did not anticipate being so consumed by the plot that I was often gripping my Kindle with some ferocity. It is quite tragic as you see the way that the characters are affected by events, but the execution is impeccable, as is the level of thought with which issues such as sexual abuse and self-harm are portrayed.
The events that take place early on and the consequences they have on Amelie, Dave, and Damaris take centre stage, but there is also a mystery element that adds more than a trace of intrigue. There were a few things that I found quite simple to predict, but that hardly undermines the quality of the story, which ends on a dramatic and intense, yet also poignant note.
To begin with, the chapters mainly alternate between the perspectives of Amelie and Dave, but as the story progresses it gradually develops the same level of focus on Damaris. All of them are written in the third person, which in this case was the ideal narrative, and they each have their own unique vibe which served to perfectly emphasise what essentially sets the three characters apart.
After being unsure of her at first, Amelie grew on me a lot. She could easily have been written as a stereotype, vain and used to treating others with indifference, but instead she is very likeable and down-to-earth. She still has flaws, but all the same I really enjoyed discovering her kind and caring nature, which made her easy for me to connect with.
Through Amelie, the book also explores the subject of how being famous can cause unwanted attention, and how it could be exploited by others for personal gain. And here, the consequences are extremely wide-ranging, destroying several lives as well as her own and leaving a long trail of victims in its wake. It is this knock-on effect that makes the book so powerful.
Dave loses literally everything and that makes you feel angry on his behalf. His severe sense of injustice and growing mistrust is captured expertly in the writing, although at times I did not find him the most likeable of characters. We are frequently told that he is ‘one of the good guys’, yet even in spite of what he is going through, he was still a bit too abrasive.
For all of the pain inflicted on Amelie and Dave, it was the story of Damaris that affected me the most. What happens to her in the time that follows Dave’s arrest is pretty harrowing and there was more than once where it left me feeling heartbroken. Even if these sections make for tough reading, she has a fascinating story arc and the author approaches it with the utmost care.
The three protagonists are all very well developed, and the same can be said about the supporting characters, who all play a significant part in the narrative. The sheer emptiness felt by Dave’s parents, the unbelievable selfishness of Claire and Cammy, the complexity of the relationship between Dave and his cellmate Angus; they are all keenly felt. Then we have Bernard, who only appears via telephone conversations, but brings energy to every one of his scenes.
Most of the story takes place in Scotland, but the overriding theme of isolation is apparent in all of the settings. The prison is made to seem particularly frightening, an unimaginably oppressive environment where violence could break out at any second. The scenes in France provided a nice escape from that and I really enjoyed them, they were well researched and the rural locations felt peaceful.
Overall, I have not come across many books that are so vivid or encompassing as this one in the way it deals with dark subject matter. The writing is more or less spot on and the short chapters allow you to remain wholly immersed in each storyline, with brilliantly developed characters whose stories conjure all kinds of feelings. For all of those reasons and more, this was a memorable read.
As explained in the review, this book explores a number of sensitive topics which you may want to be aware of before picking it up. These include child sexual abuse in particular – nothing graphic is depicted in this respect but it there are some strong references.
Elsewhere, there are descriptions of self-harm, and references to revenge porn and drug use.
A fantastic book that gripped, thrilled, and shocked me in equal measure. Unique, with great characters, and thoughtful writing that showcases impressive versatility.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
*I received a free electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Check out the rest of the posts on the blog tour!