I bought a copy of Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes some months ago, as detailed here. I began reading it late last year but, owing to some rather trying personal circumstances at the time, I felt that it would be better to wait until I could properly give it the attention that it merited.
Actually, I may have been wrong. I think that if I had read on just a little further - literally a few pages further - at that particular time, then the choice would effectively have been taken away from me: for having read the novel in its entirety in the latter part of this week, there was a certain point, quite early on, at which reading it became a matter of sheer compulsion. That word unputdownable, so often used, is certainly true in this case.
For the most part, the novel takes the form of a searingly, devastatingly personal monologue as voiced by the central character, Ana, who has just taken an overdose: this monologue sifts through the detail of the now-broken relationship with the father of her children, and the twists and turns in their lives that have taken her to this point. At times this takes the form of an almost forensic level of enquiry, and never does she flinch from giving clear voice to her darkest, most unsettling thoughts. I found this to be often quite startling, perhaps because such words then intermingle with very delicate, gentle, warm moments.
One of the great strengths of Caroline's writing is the way in which she interweaves the main narrative with that of another voice, in this case Ana's daughter: in doing so she brings incredible poignancy to certain events already described by Ana, seen as they are in a different context, and at times carrying heartbreaking consequences. This tapestry of voices and recollections serves to render the characters and events ever more vivid.
In the immediate aftermath of reading Black Boxes, I'm also struck by just how real, how urgently human these characters are. Not only are their thoughts and observations expertly transcribed, so they are also sculpted as real flesh and blood: the stuff of them as living, breathing beings with all their beauty, flaws and blemishes is what really remains firmly in my mind right now. I felt that I could see, hear, smell and touch them, to the extent that I was intruding on their presence.
Powerful, emotive reading.