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Tuesday 15 May 2018

Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin @cassandrajaneuk #BlogTour @Legend_Press #UnderwaterBreathing

On Yorkshire’s gradually-crumbling mud cliffs sits an Edwardian seaside house. In the bathroom, Jacob and Ella hide from their parents’ passionate arguments by playing the ‘Underwater Breathing’ game – until the day Jacob wakes to find his mother and sister gone. 
Years later, the sea’s creeping closer, his father is losing touch with reality and Jacob is trapped in his past. Then, Ella’s sudden reappearance forces him to confront his fractured childhood. As the truth about their parents emerges, it’s clear that Jacob’s time hiding beneath the water is coming to an end.

Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin was published by Legend Press on 3 May 2018. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review and who invited me to take part in the Blog Tour.

I've been a fan of Cassandra Parkin's writing for a while now and have read and reviewed other books by her here on Random Things; The Winter's Child (October 2017) and Lily's House (October 2016).
I've been looking forward to Underwater Breathing, and have spent the last few days totally immersed in the pages of this striking and quite emotionally draining novel.

Set in Yorkshire, along the rugged coast, where the cliffs are crumbling away and gardens, and fences, and houses are slipping into the sea, this is a story of intense family relationships, with hints of madness and sadness and swirls of darkness that creep into your head whilst reading, and are never really shaken off.

This novel is very cleverly structured. taking place during 2007, 2008 and the present day. In 2007, brother and sister Jacob and Ella are sixteen and six respectively. They've recently moved, with their parents to an old, imposing house at the edge of the cliff. It's a cold house, a damp house and a dark house, much like their family. Their mother and father shout and argue and to shut out the noise, Jacob and Ella submerge themselves in the old tub in the cold bathroom situated in the turret of the house. They try to hold their breath for as long as possible; it's the 'underwater breathing' game.

As the story skips forward one year, we discover that the children's mother has left and taken Ella with her. Jacob is distraught, his father is wild. This is just the beginning of Jacob's life, yet he feels as though he has to stay close to his father.

In the present day, Jacob is a school teacher, just twenty-seven years old, but with weight of the world on his shoulders. His Father's increasingly erratic, dangerous and violent behaviour wears him down. He misses Ella so much, he hides his home life from his colleagues and it's only Mrs Armitage who lives in the nearby house that sees the real happenings behind the closed doors.

Cassandra Parkin's writing is sublime. Her descriptions of Jacob's father and his bizarre and unpredictable behaviour made me cry. Her ability to understand and relate the horrors of a deteriorating brain, for the sufferer and for their carer is so incredibly well done.

The sense of place in Underwater Breathing is wonderful. The cold, wet, stormy Yorkshire coast and the dangers of the cliffs are brilliantly described. 

The real beauty of this novel is the messages within it. The reader realises that all is not what it seems, and the characters are perfectly formed, with plenty of flaws, but with so much to love about them. Mrs Armitage is a character who bewitched me; we never quite know, until the very end, anything about her, except what she wants us to know. She's a character that can be trusted, we think, but she's multi layered with secrets of her own.

Underwater Breathing is a beautiful, haunting and poignant story. This author is not frightened of dealing with the darkest of issues and there's some unsettling and uncomfortable themes running throughout.  This is Cassandra Parkin's best book yet. Sublime and wonderful and highly recommended by me.

Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. 
Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011) won the Scott Prize for Short Stories. 
Cassandra's writing has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. 

Follow Cassandra on Twitter @cassandrajaneuk

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