Wednesday 30 June 2021

The Darlings by Angela Jackson @AngelaJ #TheDarlings @EyeAndLightning #BookReview


When Mark Darling is fifteen years old, he is the golden boy, captain of the school football team, admired by all who know him. Until he kills his best friend in a freak accident. He spends the next decade drifting between the therapy couch and dead-end pursuits. Then along comes Sadie. A mender by nature, she tries her best to fix him, and has enough energy to carry them both through the next few years. One evening, Mark bumps into an old schoolfriend, Ruby. She saw the accident first hand. He is pulled towards her by a force stronger than logic: the universal need to reconcile one's childhood wounds. This is his chance to, once again, feel the enveloping warmth of unconditional love. But can he leave behind the woman who rescued him from the pit of despair, the wife he loves? His unborn child? This is a story about how childhood experience can profoundly impact how we behave as adults. It's a story about betrayal, infidelity and how we often blinker ourselves to see a version of the truth that is more palatable to us.

The Darlings by Angela Jackson was published on 21 June 2021 by Lightning Books. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Way back in 2013, I read Angela Jackson's first novel; The Emergence of Judy Taylor. I remember being really impressed by the strength of the writing and the wise and witty insights into a relationship.

The author is back with another look at domestic living, but this time it is told from the male perspective. Not only is this a bloke's voice, but he is also cheating on his wife. A pretty tough topic to deal with, and especially for female readers. None of us want to sympathise with a cheater, do we?

Mark Darling is a complex character, he is drifting through life. By day he writes marketing blurb for a furnishing company, whilst at night he tries to make people laugh as a stand up comedian. It's said that many comedians are depressive by nature, and it's certainly true in this case. Mark is damaged by his past. When he was just a teenager, he killed his best friend in a tragic accident and he has never got over it. Despite therapy and time moving on, it's the thing that will always haunt him. Mark's wife Sadie has nurtured him and cared for him. She often treats him more like her child than her husband, but has always protected him. After years of trying, and difficult IVF treatment, and a loads of money, Sadie is finally pregnant, and really, Mark should be content.

When Mark bumps into Ruby, an old schoolfriend who was actually a witness to that terrible accident, he feels as though he has found someone who knows the real him. A person who remembers him before the trauma, a person who he can be open with. Their affair begins and moves quickly. Ruby has many plans for them. 

I have to admit that I did find it very difficult to like Mark as a character, but I could see how he was swayed by Ruby's utter devotion to him. There were so many time when I wanted to put the breaks on sharply and urge them to STOP!  

Whilst this is a deep and layered story that is sometimes emotionally draining, it is also a story that will make the reader smile. There are some hilarious moments, especially from the supporting characters who really enhance the story and give a lightness of touch to what could be just a little too much. 

Angela Jackson is a perceptive author who is not afraid to take a risk. It has paid off here and The Darlings is a novel that I would recommend. 

On publication of her debut novel, The Emergence of Judy Taylor, Angela Jackson was named one of UNESCO City of Literature's emerging writers. 
The novel won Edinburgh International Book Festival's First Book Award, and was also Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year. 
It reached number 1 on Amazon's Comic Fiction chart and number 2 in General Fiction. 

A former psychology lecturer, she is now a tutor in creative writing for OCA. Her second novel, The Darlings, was published globally on 22 May 2021 (ebook/Kindle) and 21 June 2021 (paperback). Her one-woman show, The Darling Monologues, premiered at Edinburgh Fringe, to critical acclaim.

Praise for Angela Jackson's work:
'A northern Nora Ephron with a smattering of Edinburgh magic,' Kristin Pedroja
'Compelling, with a northern nod to unsentimental compassion and wry wit,' The List
'A brilliant storyteller [with] a natural, human warmth which shines through in all of her characters,'
'Angela is a true writer and an extremely powerful and promising voice,' Bidisha
'Heart-wrenching yet dryly funny,' Grazia

Twitter @AngelaJ

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