Alarm Girl – Hannah Vincent

Her younger self would have been horrified by the scene. She had assumed her life would be more interesting than the life her parents lived and yet here she was, indoors on a sunny day in a terraced house in small-town England.

Indigo is 11. Her mum is dead. Her dad has moved to South Africa. She and her older brother Robin live with their grandparents in England. As the novel begins, Indigo and Robin have gone to visit their dad in South Africa for the first time since he moved. It’s the Christmas holidays.

Once I said to Nan Do you like Dad? She said Of course I like your dad, Indigo, he’s your dad, isn’t he? If I say something like that to Robin he tells me I’m shit-stirring and being a girl.

The narrative moves between several characters, allowing us to see the viewpoints of Valerie and Doug, Indigo’s grandparents, and also Karen, Indigo’s mum. But it is Indigo herself who tells the majority of the story and it’s clear she’s grieving and struggling to understand her dad’s decision to move to South Africa.

Indigo dreams about her mum, she keeps a scarf of her mum’s with her all the time, and on the first night at her dad’s, she wets the bed.

I said to Robin Do you think he’s going to talk to us about Mum? Robin said Shut the fuck up but he whispered it and I could tell he was thinking the same as me, which was Dad was going to give us a talk about you…Whenever I ask Robin why no one in our family talks about you he says it’s too sad when your Mum dies, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about her, but then he just says Not everyone is like you, Indigo and Don’t be so selfish.

Indigo’s exploration of the area her father lives in and her pushing of the boundaries he tries to impose on her while she stays with him is interesting and leads to a moment of real fear. However, it is Karen’s story which interested me more.

Karen’s story is told in fragments taken out of chronology so as to leave the reader in suspense as to how she died. As her tale unfolds, it’s clear how difficult she found everyday life while the reactions of people around her are often shocking and unsympathetic.

Writing from an adult’s point of view also allows Vincent to write passage like this:

The wind shrieked and she was afraid the flimsy walls might topple, afraid she herself would crack and topple. She imagined plaster and bricks tumbling around them, burying her and the children. The weight of the debris compressing her head from all sides would be a relief, balancing out the heaviness inside her mind.

Or perhaps the ferocious wind would catch the cottage and fling it into the sky. A powerful funnel would whisk all four of them into a vortex, swallowing them whole. Or else it might explode, the owners of the cottage having planted a bomb timed to go off at precisely this moment, combusting outwards, windows smashing, bright splinters of glass piercing her from all sides, slicing her skin and spiking her eyes, gashing the palms of her hands, stabbing her.

Alarm Girl is concerned with themes of mental health and grief, as well as the relationships between parents and children. Vincent writes convincingly in both a pre-adolescent and an adult voice and there are some powerful scenes in this promising debut. I look forward to reading whatever she does next.

 

Thanks to Myriad Editions for the review copy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s