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Lily Poole Kindle Edition
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The 1970's in Scotland pretty much mirrors the same era in the North East of England as the lifeblood of the region is slowly dying with the imminent closure of the shipyards, leaving men out of work and school leavers with no job prospects. This is exactly the case for the main character, John, who is at a loose end and has no purpose in life until he notices a young girl, Lily, clinging to the railings afraid to cross the icy road to school. John befriends Lily and makes sure that he is there every day to see her safely across the road to school, but the mums taking their children to school report John for hanging around the school and watching the children. John is confused as he is simply helping Lily, and can't understand why the mothers and the police can't see that...but that's because only John can see Lily.
There seemed to be several different versions of John: the almost child-like innocent John who trudged through the snow to help an invisible girl to school and the volatile teenager whose family are not sure what he is capable of. This wasn't a book I raced through as it was very dark in places but equally tender in others. Jack O'Donnell is definitely one to watch out for as he has an amazingly divergent writing style: so dark and vivid, yet so tender and dreamlike. An impressive debut novel.
I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.
Jack creates a vivid snapshot of 1970’s Dalmuir, Clydebank and - well I don’t suppose they were called “schemes” in those days - the places where the working class used to live in that very period when they first began to become the demonised underclass. The novel switches focus between several main characters, chief of which is John. John is sixteen and has come out of the educational sausage factory with few qualifications and very little hope. The author creates a thoroughly believable figure who may, or may not, be “suffering mental issues” as we would say now. A “bam-pot” as his contemporaries do say in the novel. John tries to help Lily Poole, a young girl he encounters on her way to school. He falls in love and lust in an unlikely but beautifully realised location.
The book has just enough local dialect and typical laughter-in-the-dark wisecracking to evoke the sense of place and time without being unintelligible. It’s a much less impenetrable book than Trainspotting for example, although that particular book is set in a very different part of Scotland.
Lily Poole is by turns, funny, heartbreaking, infuriating and never boring. It is an indictment of successive governments’ abandonment of the working class, mental health care provision and simple compassion, yes, but it’s also a terrific book, with a dark secret at its core.
The book begins with our hero, John, coming across a young girl in the snow. He helps her across the treacherous icy surface to school – but it very quickly becomes apparent that he is the only person who can see her.
The plot then twists and turns, revealing, confusing and delighting as it unfolds. An extraordinary cast of characters come out of the pages. His constant references to smell bring out the inner beings. His description of the flats, houses and streets in which his characters live paint a picture in the mind that will stay with you for a long time.
This is a book about mental health, the power of self belief, the love of family and the cruelty of the both the crowd and the establishment. It is writing of the highest standard and a story that will inform, shock and intrigue you. I cannot commend this book more highly to you. That is not because I am the Editor of ABCtales, it is because it is an exceptional novel.
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Jack O'Donnell showcases his masterful writing talent in this debut novel.Read more