Without Alice – D J Kirkby

I have discovered some fabulous new (to me) authors via Twitter so I can testifiy that it’s not all mundane tweeting about what folk have for dinner or outpourings of grief at news of the latest X Factor evictee!   Via Caroline Smailes (whose excellent novel Like Bees to Honey I have reviewed here) I found out about D J Kirkby (Denyse) who has already written From Zaftig to Aspie, a memoir of her extremely colourful childhood and eventual diagnosis with Aspergers Syndrome at the age of 40.   My son has Aspergers and although I’ve read a lot of non-fiction written by Aspies, Without Alice was my first encounter with an Aspie produced work of fiction.   Folk on the “spectrum” are often considered to be quite rigid in their thinking, less able to deal with emotions so I guess I wanted Denyse to prove them all wrong!

The novel opens with the birth of Jennie and Stephen’s son and it quickly becomes apparent that Stephen has a dark secret which would, if disclosed, signal an end to any relationship with his child.  The author takes no pains to hide Stephen’s complete lack of respect for Jennie and we wonder how on earth this couple ever got together in the first place.  What follows is a slow reveal of Stephen’s past which explains his current dilemna and the emotional void which cripples his existence.  Of course, we are free to make up our own minds about Stephen and play the moral high ground judges if we so wish – the novel certainly makes you think how easily it is to get trapped by circumstances and to feel unable to act for fear of hurting others, indeed Stephen has procrastination down to a fine art!

The scenes involving childbirth and the aftermath are particularly true to life, perhaps not surprising given D J Kirkby’s career as a midwife.  She really captures the vulnerability of women during pregnancy and the shock of being responsible for a new life.   All her characters are very realistic, flawed and all the more engaging for their lack of perfection.

Considering I’m more often drawn to historical rather than contemporary fiction, I was very impressed by this debut novel – great storytelling, vivid characters and a narrative which really engages the reader and makes you think what would you do…

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