CATRIONA Child’s debut novel tells a story of family loss and destruction from the point of view of an older son, Davie Watts, whose younger brother has died.
Davie works in Virgin in Edinburgh, he longs for a girlfriend but is too lacking in confidence to approach anyone, and his parents have split up. When he walks, he has to count, just to stop himself from having a panic attack. His life is not, it’s safe to say, going well. But something happens when a homeless man with dreadlocks gives him an MP3 player, and a tale about loss and destruction transforms into one of redemption, forgiveness and the possibility of love.
That transformation is possible because the MP3 player plays songs that mean something to people. As Davie makes his way about the city from day to day, visiting his cousin Susan or his brother’s grave to read him the last chapter of a Harry Potter novel he was enjoying before he died, or just going to work, it will suddenly spark into life and transmit a message to him. Some random stranger he happens to be passing will be in need of a song, and will instruct Davie to pass the device to them momentarily. It might cheer them, or strengthen them by reminding them of better times.
It’s a simple idea, and as a proposal for an adult novel, it might sound too simple, too implausible or infantile for any genre other than magical realism. But Child provides enough realistic detail for such innocent charm to work its way through and feel possible.
Davie meets a girl through the shop but she cheats on him; he feels responsible for his brother’s death, even though it’s not his fault; he challenges Susan’s abusive ex and loses. But through it all, he finds hope in giving hope to others.
Child segues in between past events in Davie’s memory and the present day to good effect and there’s a real emotional connection between the reader and her protagonist. It’s a promising debut. «