So one of the most exciting and, honestly, most unexpected bonuses of blogging about books is the chance to discover and engage with some fabulous and very talented independent publishers.
One such publisher is Louise Walters of Louise Walters Books. Based in Oxford and founded in 2017 Louise was one of the first publishers to take a chance on a newbie blogger – a.k.a moi(!)- and send me a real life proof. The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow, out December 2019.
Louise has a gift for discovering unique voices in literature and none more so than that of Diana Cambridge author of Don’t Think I Single Thought.
This is a truly incredible novel. It is like nothing else I have read this year. In fact it is like nothing else I have read in a very long time.
It has a quality to that seems to transcend it’s setting. It feels very much grounded within it’s timeframe, chiefly 1960’s / 70’s USA, and yet it’s message and impetus are so up to date and relevant.
The book is centred on Emma a women who seems ‘perfectly packaged’. Intelligent and a skilled writer, she is stylist, beautiful, and married to a brilliant doctor. Money is clearly not an issue; maids and Picasso’s are standard in Emma’s life.
And yet Emma’s life is a struggle, a continual struggle to deal with events of her past and their longtime impact on her mental health. Her life is a roller coaster where significant, and sometimes seemly insignificant events cause her to spiral back into deep depression.
We see Emma living without truly occupying herself. She is intelligent woman, successful in her own right but depression robs her of her ability, time and again, to take control of her own life. There is a continual trend of deferring to her husband Jonathan, asking him wittingly and unwittingly to take control when things get too much.
Unable to understand Emma’s fragile mental health, Jonathan dresses up her world in money and treats. New clothes, a nice hotel, good food; all designed to smooth the road and maintain, at least superficially, the calm equilibrium of their privileged life.
A sterile world of maids, therapists, bought in meals, new clothes and expensive kitchen gadgets is created to cocoon, protect and maintain.
Until the problem is too big.
Until Chanel and a nice holiday stop working
Emma’s past is complex. Without giving spoilers her whole early life, and indeed beyond, is filled with loss and misplaced guilt. A young life filled with trauma is slowly revealed, Cambridge expertly shifts our sympathies and makes us question.
For the sands of this story are continually shifting. For someone in the depths of a depression isn’t always the most reliable of narrators, and it is up to us, the reader, to piece together Emma’s fragmented story. A process almost akin to that of a therapist.
And yet what treatment would we prescribe ? Where exactly does the trouble lie?
Within this story there is a continual avoidance of emotion and not just on the part of Emma. Difficult emotions are continually bubbling under, never confronted; all wrapped in a frosting avoidance.Emma is our key focus but other friends and acquaintances reflect the pattern.
Diana Cambridge presents with stark and devastating accuracy a pervading lack of understanding. And most shockingly a continual and woefully inadequate level of treatment.
Emma is repeatedly given means of escape, ways of blunting the edges, but never true support. Every time something happens that brings Emma to the edge of confronting emotion or past experiences, someone offers her a shield. Be it a holiday, a dress, a blank cheque, a pill.
This novel raises questions about the wider societal experience of and reaction to mental health. It reflects the knee jerk reaction to create immediate calm, offer temporary balm and paper over cracks. It reflects with pinpoint accuracy and terrible consequences a wider inability to truly listen, to understand and to encourage confrontation.
The style of the prose reflects the protagonist; alternating between calm and chaos but with an veneer of sophistication and chic. The style is sparse, understated but also devastating.
There is an unnerving, but powerful feeling of the protagonist moving away from you and coming back into sharp focus as her life and mental health ebbs and flows.
This is a novel that is painfully relevant, to yesterday, to today and beyond.
It is a warning, dressed up in couture and sleeping pills. And one we all need to hear.
Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge is published by Louise Walters Books on 26th September 2019.