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A writer to watch,
This review is from: Killing Daniel (Paperback)
Intense friendships in childhood or adolescence often end when one of the friends moves away and contact is lost. Fleur and Chinatsu in `Killing Daniel' have just such a friendship, but they both continue to think about each other after they lose touch, and to feel that they are somehow incomplete while apart. The book tells the story of the dramatic way in which they are reunited.
Despite their separation and the different environments in which they live (Fleur in Manchester, Chinatsu in Japan), there are parallels in their unfulfilled and threatened lives, particularly in the way that both are living with violent partners. These parallels seem to have developed from the similar characteristics that brought them so close together in the first place.
`Killing Daniel' is a story of violence, abuse, betrayal and revenge. The lives and inner lives of Fleur and Chinatsu are partly portrayed through descriptions of their ill-treatment at the hands of men, and their complex reactions to this. But they are also rendered, in exquisite detail, in networks of acute observations that build up rich pictures of the two women. There is a whole landscape here of different physical contacts and their meanings, often conveyed through metaphors of the natural world. Sarah Dobbs has an uncanny ability to portray character through description of an environment, associating people with sounds, smells and tastes, and using domestic objects, in particular, to convey elements of personality - a silver pen in which Chinatsu's reflection is squashed, a necklace whose tiny links her husband, Yugi, imagines squeezing as if they were his wife's flesh. Often, though, there is no ulterior motive to these descriptions, and we are given wonderful, pure, poetic observation:
`There are faint shapes in the sky like torn paper, edges occasionally sharking over the moon. An odd star shines through, a cyclops here and there, watching with a white-cold glimmer of ancient menace.'
When we see Chinatsu's aggressive and unfaithful husband Yugi through her eyes, we find it hard to comprehend how a man like him could provoke feelings of love in her, as well as hate. But Dobbs shows us Yugi's own view of the world, too, and, although this does not change our opinion of him, it reveals his complexity and helps us to at least come to some understanding of his behaviour. It also enables Dobbs to show a Japanese view of the English:
`The English people all looked swollen. It was a distressing sight. Perhaps an alteration in diet would mean they would then walk with something more akin to grace...'
Later on, Chinatsu, too, comments on them:
`... all these pale people, their different smell, their large litter and the full scale spread of their tumbling, epileptic language.'
Sexual scenes in novels are notoriously problematical, but `Killing Daniel' does not shy away from this and is much the richer as a result. In particular, the scenes in which one or other of the two female protagonists is involved - and there are several of them - are graphic, but never exploitative, because they are always rooted in the feelings of the women, which are illuminated by the perceptive, resonant observations at which Dobbs excels. These scenes are a powerful weapon in the portrayal of the aggressive men with whom both Fleur and Chinatsu are involved, and whom, against their own best interests, they seem to need.
I would echo what W. J. Thirsk-Gaskill says about this being a female novel. Its prime intention is to fully render its two female protagonists and their compulsive story. That it achieves this so beautifully will make it equally attractive, though, to readers of both sexes. Sarah Dobbs is a writer to watch, and I'm looking forward to her next novel.