Haunting Myself: Run Alice Run

Haunting Myself: Run Alice Run

Run Alice Run by Lynn Michell: Inspired Quill, May 2015

“How do you carry on when your heart has been torn out? Like a rag doll whose seams had split and opened to expose the softness inside, Alice was completely undone and did not know how to mend herself.”

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Run Alice Run traces the breaking points of a young girl’s heart and the ways in which each fracture moulds her into the woman she’s become at the novel’s start and end. We’re led through the tentative waltzes of Alice’s hopeful, turned hopeless, connections and attempts at life as she remembers the highs and lows of her hometown, her student and librarian days at the University of Birmingham and now her endlessly monochrome existence in Edinburgh.

Tracing the fault lines of her past, she questions how, in her fifties, she’s once again found herself in a police station on charges of shoplifting. We see how each fragment and splinter of herself, fashioned by the actions of others with the help of her own hands, have slowly morphed into defining characteristics, habits and triggers that Alice carries into each relationship, even her relationship to herself.

The novel’s temporalities seesaw between her present and past, with her memory holding the stitches together as her present self is aided by the haunting of a younger Alice. The transitions from the present to the past or dialogue between a woman and the ghost of herself may occasionally seem disjointed, throwing the reader off.

However, the interaction suggests the tenacious resilience and strength of a person and how we never truly lose our former selves, even if we sometimes end up carrying them as the “unsettling emotional luggage” of a time marked with pain that we wish to forget. The reader sees the poignant moments where Alice’s life fully knocks her to her knees, yet the four heart-breaking incidences that leave her lost and numb within herself all serve as catalysts for her final dénouement – freedom.

Lynn Michell’s character demonstrates a wilful preservation of self mixed with a frustrating coercion into previously expected roles of women, expectations driven by societal norms, yet equally supported, dutifully abided by or even accepted due to a woman’s perception of herself.

One of the four horsemen of Alice’s life, Oliver, notes her thesis’ use of “subtext,” a topic closely related to his own sociological interests “in what people don’t say as much as what they do. Body language tells a quite different story from the spoken word…” and in Alice’s case this is all too true. In the face of societal pressures, expectations and norms, particularly norms for women to marry, mother and manage it all, Alice finds herself trapped in the superwoman complex and forgetting that it is ok to not be ok and more importantly to voice this when it is so, rather than letting it dangle in the subtext of her ever quietening, withering; retreating self.

Nowadays, complacency often overcoats the topic of gender inequality when we seem to have more equality than ever before and it’s easy to forget just how recently a woman’s place was still considered within the home, raising children, cooking and cleaning and not questioning her husband’s actions, even when they were terribly wrong. Alice falls suspect to this over and over again as she attempts to fit other people’s templates of how she should be, desperately trying to be right, but right for whom? Everyone, but herself. We see her struggle to fit the mould, yet equally resist through tiny rebellions of self-destructive behaviour, fighting off the “waves of anonymity” that suffocate her.

People (in Alice’s case four men) can – for lack of a better word – suck, but what is more alarming is how we let them make us suck too. Alice learns how people will bring her down to their level, their benchmark, within which she can never win because it is not her own.

Yet, after years of experience, the dualistic narrative of her past and present relaying of temporalities, spaces, and mind-sets intertwine with her conclusory desire and driving force for freedom – the most priceless essence of humanity and one she never realised how fully she had lost, until she no longer had it.

Liberation is tackled, fought and wrestled in all arenas within the novel’s predominantly male-dominated society where Alice struggles to find a space for herself. Nonetheless, tracing the footsteps of her past leads her to the positive, yet daunting, choice of freedom – she decides to save herself, for herself. No longer will she stick her head in the sand and simply accept things the way they are, choosing rebellious acts like shoplifting to ease the simmering tension of her discontent, but never truly lashing out at the real sources. Alice decides on the best revenge – to put herself first, fight for herself and succeed in living life her own way, on her own terms.

When observing Alice’s state of existence, chronic is a word that dances upon the tip of my tongue, a loaded word with excruciating meaning known only too well to Lynn Michell, the dedicated writer of this novel, creator of Linen Press and tenacious battler of ME. Any state of chronic suffering, even that of the inertia of a lifeless existence in Alice’s case, treads the draining, exhausting lines between being alive and simply surviving, always looking over the precipice and wondering if you will make it.

Ultimately, we all go off our rails sometimes, but it is how we get back on them that matters.

 

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, endeavouring to produce unique and powerful pieces of work.

Buy Run Alice Run from Inspired Quill here.

 

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. 

The Elusive ‘I’ in Me: Sugar and Snails

The Elusive ‘I’ in Me: Sugar and Snails

Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin: Inspired Quill, published 23rd July 2015

Sugar and Snails

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”.

Buy Sugar and Snails from Inspired Quill here.

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.