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Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with?,
This review is from: The Last Kings of Sark (Hardcover)
Rosa Rankin-Gee's debut takes a curious approach to structure and content that makes it feel like something less than a conventional novel, but something more than a series of connected short stories. This however is less in the spirit of experimentation with the format as much as meeting and matching the rhythms of the lives of the three young people who meet on summer in Sark and fall in love. Three people is an odd number for any love affair, and yes, inevitably, it leads to deep complications for all concerned.
The novel is divided into two distinct sections. The first half is novella-like, related from the perspective of Jude, a young 21-year old girl who is engaged for the summer as a tutor for Pip on the island of Sark. Her time there seems fairly uneventful and even commonplace, Jude seemingly never fitting in or feeling entirely comfortable with Pip or sharing a room with Sofi, a young Polish girl from Ealing who is engaged there as a cook. They go for walks, cycle, go swimming and meet some Czech boys staying on the island, but nothing apparently out of the ordinary. There's little sense even of a narrative direction, just a series of impressions that somehow manage to get it across that Jude is nonetheless experiencing a summer of love that is going to have an important impact on her life.
There's little that is made explicit about these feelings until close to the end of this section, but in the playfulness of the dialogue and the imaginative and original use of language (particularly from Sofi), you sense the deeper undercurrents at work. The second half of the book feels less satisfactory, revisiting Pip, Jude and Sofi at different times in the subsequent ten years or so through a series of fragmentary short-stories where you have to gradually work out from the dialogue who we are dealing with, what the time period is and in what circumstances the characters are living ...or, well, maybe coping is a better word. It feels like the author is playing with you, withholding information until the last moment, but on the other hand, this sense of being lost in the middle of something unknown does create exactly the right kind of sense of dissatisfaction that is vital here.
This then, more than anything, is what the novel best achieves, communicating those feelings to the viewer outside of a conventional narrative plot. "A tugging at the base of your stomach" is one phrase that is used in the book to describe the sensation of being in love with the wrong person, of love being unrequited, of opportunities being missed, of regretful longing for the past, and it's a feeling that will be painfully recognisable to most readers. Rosa Rankin-Gee manages to hit the reader right in that delicate place through her writing across the whole of The Last Kings of Sark, and gut reaction is really what counts in this lovely little novel.