Top critical review
Girl &, like, weird myth & stuff
22 May 2018
Polly Vaughan is trouble. Funny and spunky, but also thoughtless, vain and disloyal, she’s flunked her first year at uni, slept with her BF’s boyfriend and slipped a dodgy pill to a kid who’s now in a coma.
She escapes the wreckage by going on holiday to rural Scotland with her interior designer mother Lottie. There, whilst getting off with local barman Fraser, purloining dope, wearing inappropriate shorts, surfing porn sites (and occasionally worrying about what happened to coma guy), she seems to witness strange, floating, cloud-like apparitions. WTF? Are those doobs too strong? Or is something like, really weird, going on?
‘Swansong’, composer and alt-folk recording artist Kerry Andrew's first novel is an interesting but flawed attempt to bring ancient myth into a contemporary setting.
Italicized sections, written for some reason in an overly poetic style (why don't the dead ever talk normally in novels?), tell us that the spirit of another young woman is lurking in the village. One morning Polly wakes to find a large white feather on her pillow. Majorly spooky...
This being the countryside, eccentric locals abound. Polly bumps into taciturn Jim, a forty-something hermit with a penchant for disembowelling birds. Despite - or because of - the now spurned Fraser yelling 'He's dangerous!' - Polly seems drawn to this monosyllabic olds and off come those shorts. But Jim doesn't just want her for her sparky wit and lack of inhibitions. Something darker and more strange feeds his desire…
The novel starts well, flags in the middle and ends limply. Several aspects irritate and impede plausibility: Polly's ability to see this spirit world is not seeded and comes from nowhere; the business with the coma guy seems to have no real relevance to the larger story; everyone in the village conveniently forgets to mention Jim's past to Polly; the otherworldly reveal (again, not properly grounded or explored) seems hardly to affect Polly, so as readers we too simply shrug our shoulders. Polly can come across not as edgy or offbeat, but merely a brat; indulged both by her mother and her creator she is hardly tested throughout the novel.
‘Swansong’ is part of the hugely welcome literary movement exploring British landscape, myth and folklore, a kind of new gothic, but like many of its stablemates (‘Devil’s Day’ for example), struggles to find a compelling, satisfying vision.