I have just finished reading one of the saddest books I have had the dubious pleasure of reading (that I can remember, anyway). The Anatomy of Wings won Best First Book in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and probably deservedly so. It is an accomplished piece but like other first books, can sometimes be too “wordy”, as if the author is trying too hard to make this an Important Piece of Writing.
Briefly, it is the story of Beth Day, a teenager who for various reasons does not fit in and ends up in some fairly horrible situations. Her fate is told by one of the younger sisters, Jenny, and while we know the eventual outcome from the beginning, how it happens is still unnerving. Maybe it is more so now that I am a parent! The family unravels, Jenny struggles to deal with matters…it is not an uplifting tale. There are moments of enlightenment but they are few, in my opinion.
Oddly, they come in the form of interludes told by a third-person narrator of the other residents in Jenny’s street. They read like short stories and generally describe how hopeless most of these characters are. Nearly everyone in the small mining town is like this. I can’t think of any redeeming character. Everyone has soem fault. Male characters take advantage of the women and girls. Old people look back on their lives with regret.
There is a sense of melancholy throughout. I found it similar to Sly (Fenely) and Jack Rivers and Me (Radley), another first novel which also won big (the Vogel). The melancholy is only really relevant if you grew up in a small town and Foxlee has captured this well; the candy cigarettes, the panel vans, some of the language. That does not make it less sad and in fact, adds to the emotion. These people are very real, trying to keep their despair out of sight, struggling to keep their emotions in check (the father has probably less than fifty words in the whole book!).
There are some incidents in here which make it not suitable for younger children, even though it is about that time of life, but I will be recommending it to older readers. In many ways it is similar to one of my favourite films, Somersault, and would make a nice companion piece.