Signs of Life – Anna Raverat

Signs of Life



Signs of Life by Anna Raverat is one of Waterstones’ 11 for 2012, their list of highly recommended debut novels.  Last year’s picks included The Tiger’s Wife (Orange Prizewinner) and Pigeon English (Man Booker shortlist) so does this bode well for Ms Raverat’s first novel?

Well, I loved Signs of Life and I think it must be acknowledged that it is an extremely brave debut novel given that its narrator, Rachel, is extremely unlikeable.  It’s not that she’s been involved in war crimes or cruelty  to animals, quite the opposite as she “appears” to be a bit of a flake, self-obsessed, drifting along and letting others carry the can while she continues sitting at her desk navel-gazing.  Not sounding awfully exciting so far…

What I did find fascinating though was the way in which Rachel gradually releases her history to us, strand by strand and what a tangled web she weaves.  Ten years ago she had an affair with disastrous consequences and we won’t get to the crux of the whole “affair” until she has sorted through all the other events in a stream of consciousness style, flitting from past to present, from mundane to deathly serious.

She controls what the reader knows whilst claiming to have been used as a pawn and throughout the novel I found her quite unnerving on a par with Barbara from Notes on a Scandal, another obnoxious yet fascinating character.  She wants to be honest but she frequently alludes to the fact that honesty and truth are impossible to achieve.

If you are enthralled by unlikeable, unreliable narrators and you don’t mind being manipulated and dangled on a string, then you will be captivated by this tense, edgy novel – an excellent debut.

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  1. This sounds fantastic! I’m a bit wary of the fact you mention a stream of consciousness style, but other than that I love unreliable narrators. I look forward to giving this a try at some point.

  2. The comparison with Notes On A Scandal is enough to get me hooked,I loved that book. Just added this one to my wishlist :)

  3. Treez says:

    Jackie, it’s not as esoteric as some stream of consciousness novels tend to be and I found it quite easy to follow. It all seemed very natural to me that she’s trying to repress some of the past and perhaps some guilt and ends up letting other memories in to block the more hurtful ones. I found it all very fascinating but I can already see on Amazon how some readers will find it a wearisome chore!

  4. Treez says:

    Sam, there’s more real plot to Notes on a Scandal and Barbara is probably more obviously the villain of the piece but yes, the whole theme about what is truth and justifying one’s actions is very much shared.

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