Sunday 7 April 2013

The Drowning Of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes is published by The Friday Project on 11 April 2013.  This is Caroline Smailes' sixth book.   I've previously read a couple of her novels; In Search of Adam and  Like Bees To Honey and although I enjoyed reading both of those, I think that The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is far and away her greatest story yet.    Caroline Smailes' writing is unique, quirky and sometimes a little bit strange, her style can take some getting used to but she really is a monster talent and if you don't mind having your head turned inside-out and left spinning like a top, then I'd really recommend that you read her work.

Arthur Braxton runs away from school. He hides out in an abandoned building, an Edwardian public baths. He finds a naked woman swimming in the pool.
 From this point on, nothing will ever be the same.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an unflinching account of the pain and trauma of adolescence, of how first love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something miraculous. It is a dark and brooding modern fairy tale from one of our most gifted writers.
Caroline Smailes has layered Arthur Braxton's story very cleverly with the stories of the other two main characters; Delphina and Laurel.   She also brings the story to the reader using different techniques including first-person narrative and stage-play scripting.  The story slips back and forth in time and starts with Laurel's story.  Laurel is a teenage girl who starts to work at The Oracle - the public baths on the seafront in a small Welsh town.  Laurel is the oldest of seven children, her single-parent Mother is 'proper useless' but Laurel has dreams and ambitions and wants to go to college and train to be a teacher.

Arthur Braxton is a teenage boy who is lonely.  His Mother walked out years ago, his Dad has lost the plot completely and spends his day eating crisps and smells of pee.  Arthur is bullied constantly by a gang of yobs and the final straw comes when a photo of his cock is posted on Facebook accompanied by 'you are a gay' taunts.

Arthur takes refuge in the uninhabited building that once was The Oracle and there he meets the mysterious Delphina, and falls in love.   Arthur soon becomes obsessed with Delphina's magical world of water-healers and strange old men and spends more and more time in their world.

This is a complex story that interweaves the harsh reality and grittiness of Arthur's modern-day life with the magical, mystical world of The Oracle.  Where bullying, twagging school and parental neglect slot in perfectly with water healing, 'other' worlds, fairy-like nymphs and the peculiar history of The Oracle.

My head was spinning when I finished this story, at times I felt a little bit lost, but at others I felt as though I was there, in The Oracle, alongside Arthur, Laurel and Delphina.   I realise now that Caroline Smailes has used some classical Greek myths as her basis for this novel but I'm really not familiar with those, so I really can't comment on the comparison.

Caroline Smailes has an amazing imagination, and paints a stunning picture with her words.  The setting of the derelict public baths is amazingly real and her characters are so well-drawn that I could see every inch of them in my mind.

I have absolutely no doubt that The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is going to stay in my mind for a very long time, in fact I may re-read it at a later date, and that is something that I rarely do.

Huge thanks to all at The Friday Project for sending my copy for review.

About Caroline Smailes (from her website : 

Caroline Smailes appears to make life changing decisions based on passing comments made by Richard and Judy.
Back in 2005, two weeks before she was due to start a PhD in Linguistics, Caroline watched an interview on Richard & Judy where they referred to someone as a ‘nearly woman’. Caroline identified with that label and faced her ‘now or never’ moment. She didn’t want to be someone who talked of ‘nearly’ having done something, she wanted to see if she could write novels and tell stories.
Within that same week, Caroline gave up her funding and her PhD place, enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing and over the next year she wrote In Search of Adam.
Now, six publications later, Caroline lives with her husband and three children in the North West of England.
In brief: Caroline was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she is not represented by a literary agent, she likes cake, roller-skates and vinyl.
You can follow Caroline on Twitter here


  1. I can't wait to get my own copy, it sounds fantastic.

  2. Sounds fantastic Anne. I've been following Caroline's blog as she's been writing this, and am really looking forward to reading this one.

  3. Angi, I think this will be just perfect for you. I'd pass on my copy but it's a very difficult-to-manage manuscript copy. 400 A4 pages bound with a comb binder. The proper book will be much easier to handle!!

  4. This sounds wonderful. After reading The Song Of Achilles I've been on the lookout for contemporary fiction that takes inspiration from Greek mythology that I'm more familiar with than the Iliad, and this would certainly fit the bill. And I like the idea of my head spinning like a top! One for the wishlist, definitely.