Suzy Suzy, Author: William Wall, Publisher: Head of Zeus, Guideline Price: £18.99
"My mam doesn't really look at my dad any more. Like maybe she never did idk but she doesn't now. I don't know if she doesn't want to see him or she can't see him or just to her he's not there. But every time I see her not looking at him it hurts me. She looks at me all right. She hates me."
Suzy Regan is a world-weary 17-year-old Dubliner, consumed with self-loathing and an intense dislike of her dysfunctional family. Her heightened teenage emotions oscillate wildly from occasional joy to more frequent despair. Suzy says she wants to kill her mother: "she has like two registers, as my English teacher would say, normal and ballistic"; a woman who finds her daughter equally exasperating: "Sometimes I can see my mother is going to hit me but she stops herself. Like there's a little tick of bones and muscles and a change in the way her hands and her body are tilted. . ."
The book is set in post Celtic Tiger Ireland, where Suzy's property developer dad is another source of constant irritation and anxiety, with his unpaid taxes and thickening arteries: "We even debated the housing crisis in religion class . . . and I think maybe my dad is causing it. Like single-handedly causing the shortage because he owns like everything almost."
William Wall is a multi-award-winning author, poet and translator, who first took up writing as a young boy when confined to bed with painful juvenile arthritis. He frequently tells his stories through strong female voices; he uses it as a distancing technique, as a way of keeping himself out of his books, and as a means of maintaining objectivity.
Power has always fascinated Wall, and particularly people excluded from power. Drawn, like many writers, to describing outsiders, Wall sees women as having been (and possibly continuing to be) the submerged population.
Wall feels quite assured writing as a woman, and with good reason. His insights into the internal world of a teenage girl are remarkable - the crashing boredom, the vulnerability, the drama of her days and her moods (making liberal use of capital letters throughout the text to demonstrate these emotions) and the virtual world she spends much of her time in.
Suzy Suzy comes complete with a glossary of teenage terminology and abbreviations to help the adult reader navigate a teenager's life and mind. Wall captures so accurately Suzy's anxiety of seeing her parents not getting along, the doll's house fragility of the world around her as it begins to implode, the shouting and the more disturbing silence:
"I was supposed to feel safe and secure because the house IS FULL OF F**KING SECRETS. Jesus wept twice. It's like we're the f**king government except there's no WikiLeaks. Or a secret society. A Regan NEVER TALKS."
Suzy feels isolated and begins to cut herself with her big brother's razors, but she confides in two close girlfriends whom she has known since primary school: Holly, who's "a dote" and whose "eyes glow like the stuff inside a seashell idk some kind of pearl" and Serena, whom she doesn't entirely trust and has a figure that is "perf" but a smile that "is the smile of a dead pollock. It just doesn't work."
The three girls are drawn into trying to solve a murder that centres on the new owners of local stately home Ballyshane House (which her father has wanted to purchase for as long as Suzy can remember), all the while navigating the miseries of secondary school, a country and a family in crisis, secrets and affairs, and Suzy's father's failing health and financial troubles.
"My dad's heart attack went well. Or so I believe. He got a stent and they told him to stay away from work for a while. Which He Did Not Do."
Wall has a horror of sentimentality. He describes himself "as not being a kind and gentle writer". His prose is beautifully lyrical and rhythmic, his sentences clean, every word weighed. In Suzy he has created a vulnerable and unwittingly hilarious central character whose voice, as it propels us through sinister events, is every bit as powerful and plausible as D. B. C. Pierre's Vernon in Vernon God Little or Francie Brady's in The Butcher Boy.
Suzy Suzy is everything a great book should be - humorous, poignant and utterly original. With a wickedly funny central character, a gripping and propulsive plot, several unsolved mysteries and real-life, ragged endings, this is the sort of book that readers will be immediately absorbed by and which writers, like this one, can only admire and learn from.
The writer is a book critic
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