Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes

review by Maryom

Strange things are happening in the old public baths now renamed The Oracle. Tapping into the power from a sacred spring beneath the pools three water-healers have been curing people of physical and emotional ills but when 14 yr old Laurel goes to work there part-time, she finds one of the healers taking a much more personal interest in her.
Arthur Braxton has been set up by the most attractive girl at school and finds himself being made a laughing stock all over Facebook. Trying to run away from his life, he finds himself attracted to the dilapidated Baths by the strange singing coming from inside. Venturing past the rubble and builders' skips he finds another world - at the heart of the splendid old building lies a pool and in it is a naked girl swimming and twirling as if the water is her natural element. In this dream-like place Arthur finds peace and quiet away from his unravelling life - and, as in all fairy tales, a maiden to love.This idyll is threatened though - by the bullies who make Arthur's days a misery and by the money-crunching suits who want to demolish the old building and replace it by a modern spa.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is a difficult story to pin down and label. Caroline Smailes takes the figures of Greek myths, mixes them a little with The Water Babies and transposes them into a derelict swimming pool - is it fantasy or a modern fairy tale? maybe an urban legend? However you label it, it's an intriguing, enjoyable read.

The Oracle is a haven in the midst of crowded run-down streets. The Pool itself, despite the changing cubicles and other everyday swimming pool paraphernalia,  is a magical, enchanted place, a water portal from one world to another. Outside the rain falls in torrents; inside is calm. Stepping through its doors, people can be transformed - the awkward, crude, victimised Arthur changes under the influence of the Oracle into a more caring, sympathetic, responsible person. When the two worlds clash though, there's bound to be trouble.

The telling of the story jumps from one viewpoint to another, from first person narrative to play-script, but the strands all weave together to make one wonderful whole.

I've intended reading Caroline Smailes' earlier novels for some time - I have one in hard copy and another downloaded to Kindle waiting for me - this has given me that extra push to actually get round to it!
A must read for anyone who loves the quirky and unusual - and one to read a second or third time as I suspect more nuances will emerge.

Maryom's review -  5 stars
Publisher - originally published by The Friday Project but now re-launched by 
 Fourth Estate
Genre - Adult fiction, fantasy, myths

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