Sometimes the question of what is an indie book needs a closer look. Does it have to be published by the author? What if the author has given it an imprint? What if it’s published by a teeny weeny publisher and has limited distribution? I rather like the definition suggested by the Indie e-book review as one where (put briefly) the author, or an enterprise in which the author has a stake, retains rights in the work. That sounds independent enough to me.
Now I don’t know the set-up with Crooked Cat . They may retain all rights, they may not, but I don’t restrict myself to indie books and having read a few of their novels (which cover a huge variety of styles and genres) by far and away my favourite is fellow Ether author Michela O’Brien’s Kissing the Cotton Clouds, now reissued as Playing on Cotton Clouds. If there’s a tendency these days for novels to focus on a single character (often using first person narratives) and over a relatively short period, this book bucks the trend by following a group of teenagers from the end of school through to middle age. There’s no riveting premise or crazy m.c. to drive things along, which I can see makes it a more difficult proposition to package and to pitch and I admit I was a bit doubtful on first approach. A sex scene is a predictable start but it’s well-written and makes a good introduction to Aidan who’s already sleeping with a girl ‘from the grown-up world’. Then we meet the vying Grimes sisters and finally Seth, a quiet boy who struggles to keep up socially and sexually with the rest of the gang. It’s a lot to take in in a few pages, but as soon as the gang meets up on the local bridge, I find myself not so much in the eighties (a decade which largely passed me by) as in the world of adolescence, that time when the boy/girl you fancy something rotten is oblivious to your existence because he/she is just as completely obsessed with someone else. This to me is a truth as universal as that whole man-fortune-wife scenario and one that doesn’t always recede with age! Then came this passage:
‘The bridge had waited for them all evening. It knew they would come…
[it] would welcome each one of them, with their sweet dreams and dark secrets, their hopes and their fears, their heartaches and triumphs, their handful of years and their unshaped future’.
Hmm, should that have been ‘futures’? No matter - I just liked it. And I grew to like it more and more as the group travels through the years, more apart than together, but never quite escaping those old rivalries and jealousies, never totally casting off the friendships. As they grow older they remain sympathetic but also retain their innate flaws. We despair of those mistakes we know we have made ourselves, the eternal ‘what-ifs’ of life and love.
The pace is unhurried and for a while I thought this was going to be more a collection of linked stories than a conventionally structured novel, but actually I was wrong. The whole thing is skilfully drawn together in a perfect conclusion.
In many ways (setting, period, jumps in time, even the character of Livy) this novel recalls the much-hyped One Day. But I think Michela O’Brien has pulled off a richer and more complex story (without resorting to a gimmick) and with a much more satisfying ending.
Eighties refusenik that I am, I still don’t particularly take to the cotton clouds (played on or kissed) of the title, but I hope this book gets as wide an audience as it deserves. For that to happen (take note Crooked Cat, take note a.n. other?) I suspect it really needs to be in print.
I hope some of you will take a look and see if you agree.