Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin: Inspired Quill, published 23rd July 2015
Sugar and Snails beautifully intermingles the temporality of a person’s identity through the story of the distant past, not-so-distant past, and present of Dr Diana Dodworth, an academic psychologist at Newcastle University. The reader quietly enters to be privy to the turmoil of a relationship in conflict. Prior to a formal introduction to the characters, we experience their struggle and stand on the cusp of their possible end before we know their beginning, leading to a trip to A&E in the aftermath of Diana’s self-inflicted harm. We get to know her mental state and inner-workings in the momentary anaesthesia of her self destruction, “When Simon left, I was drowning. Now I’m floating on a sea of calm.”
Flooding seems an appropriate word here as the past floods into her present day-to-day life, an unresolved past at times tormenting, intense, confusing, full of fear, potential, shame, and transformation, as she continues to grapple, after all these years, for a self to call her own. The underlying secret, a cleverly alluded-to event experienced by Diana’s fifteen year old self in Cairo that ‘radically altered the trajectory of her life’, remains hidden even in her frequent revisiting of long-buried memories. Yet, the past – one which she has kept at bay till now by remaining distant to those around her (except her quirky cat Marmaduke) – collides into the present when she begins a relationship with Simon Jenkins, a recently divorced professor at the university who is applying for a Sabbatical in Cairo. The lingering “unspeakable” choice haunts her and causes her to feel, “caught between two stools, scared of losing him if you don’t go [to Cairo]… and losing myself if I do.” This secret tantalisingly grips the reader, gradually being pieced together bit by bit, so intrinsically and poignantly mapped out that I truly cannot praise this novel highly enough.
I risk spoiling the enigmatic essence of this novel if I give any more away, for the enticing nature of this text is embedded within the unknown – the unravelling of a person’s layers, the hidden depths of someone’s ghosts, skeletons, monsters and anything else that they may have ‘left’ within the closet.
There is little criticism I can proffer for this novel as it gracefully tight-rope-walks the landscape of the intimate, personal, social, cultural and psychological implications of a person’s choices, missed-choices and non-choices. Yet, perhaps for some readers, the cliff-hanger ending, the novel’s opposition to finality (reflecting the narrator’s resistance to the labels, definitions, definitives and rigid social structures that dictate us) will be unwelcome. In my opinion, I read this as hopeful, an openness extended throughout the novel to present life as full of possibilities, where there is no real ending to the shape-shifting of a person until they are six-feet under. Anne Goodwin, through her well-defined protagonist and those that fill Diana’s life, shows us that we can experience a coming-of-age at any time in life, we are never concrete selves, but always in search of a self between the borders of who we are, who we have been, who we feel we ought to be and who we want to be.
The novel’s intricate complexity, understanding of character and intensity of substance gives no indication of this being Anne Goodwin’s debut novel. Goodwin shares the “world” of her protagonist in as much as she studied Psychology and Mathematics at Newcastle University, and after twenty-five years as a clinical psychologist, which arguably helped to shape a lot of the sensitive and unique perspectives found within the novel, she has turned her hand to writing. This complex mixture of realism and psychologically detailed characters gives a stylistic taste of what may come within her second book, Underneath, scheduled for publication in May 2017, with further offerings promised in future.
Mirroring Diana’s musings, Sugar and Snails is a beautiful reminder of the Chinese proverb “may you live in interesting times”, highlighting that sometimes hitting rock bottom can provide relief in knowing that nothing can get worse and the only way is up. I look forward to reading Goodwin’s subsequent novels, and very much encourage you to read this one.
About the publisher:
Inspired Quill is a not-for-profit publishing house which describes itself as dedicated to quality publications and providing a people-oriented platform for authors to develop their skills both in writing, marketing and self-editing. They value a collaborative approach with their authors throughout the process from submission to launch. Furthermore, Inspired Quill supports Gendered Intelligence – “understanding gender diversity in creative ways” – as well as endeavouring to provide workshops and opportunities, and actively support those primarily deemed as “marginalised individuals”.
Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley
Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.
Read Anne Goodwin’s Contemporary Small Press feature Riding the Mule: The Adventure of Small Press Publishing here.