Friday, 9 September 2016

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes

Arthur Braxton has had enough. His mum has left, his dad is broken and he’s the laughing stock of his high school.
But things are about to change. When Arthur runs away and shelters in an old abandoned bathhouse, he sees a naked woman swimming in the pool. From this point on, his sad little life will never be the same.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes was originally published in April 2013, I read it then and adored it. It was re-published by Fourth Estate in July this year, complete with this amazing and beautiful new cover.

I very rarely re-read a book, in fact I can't remember when I last re-read a book, but when I went out to buy this re-published version of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, I opened it up and just kept reading. I still love it, I still adore it.  Here's the review that I posted three years ago:

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.

Anyone who didn't read The Drowning of Arthur Braxton the first time around?  I'd recommend that you go out and treat yourself to a copy straight away.

Caroline Smailes' acclaimed debut novel, IN SEARCH OF ADAM, was published in 2007 (The Friday Project/HarperCollins). The Big Issue North declared the book 'an engrossing and touching read from a new talent'. Since then Caroline has written four additional novels. These include BLACK BOXES, international bestseller LIKE BEES TO HONEY, an experimental digital novel with eleven endings 99 REASONS WHY and modern day fairy tale THE DROWNING OF ARTHUR BRAXTON.

Caroline lives in the North West of England.

Follow her on Twitter @Caroline_S


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