Caroline Smailes’ debut novel In Search of Adam is a triumph of stylistic originality and a read that will remain etched on your mind for a long time. The harrowing and candid narrative of Jude Williams, who is only six years old when the novel begins, is stark and shocking. She describes through her innocent eyes the horrors of her life growing up in a ‘close knit’ community in the North East. Dealing with suicide, neglect, child abuse and mental illness this book is full of dark material. Yet Smailes’ prose retains a level of sensitivity that is exceptional and compelling. Using unusual typography, short fragmented sentences (many are only one, two or three words long) and recurrent images and thoughts, the narrative builds an authentic sense of Jude’s cruel and distressing early years:
I felt sick. I felt panic. Everything was going to change again. Bang. Those butterflies exploded into a fluttering frenzy inside my stomach. Fright. They needed to escape. I didn’t open my mouth. I feared they would flurry out of my throat. They would attack Rita. I would be in trouble. I kept my mouth shut. Tight. Tight. Tight.
For Jude, the world outside doesn’t really exist. She blocks it off because her experiences have proved that it’s too painful. So she is a solitary figure, alone in a world that wants to punish her for reasons unknown. Any external experiences are manifested internally and eat away at her self-esteem: “Whirling. Swirling. Round and round. Twirling secrets round and round.” After her mother’s suicide, it begins to feel like Jude takes responsibility for her dead mother’s ‘crime’. There is a strong message in the novel that our human need to blame and ridicule leads to the suffering of the next generation. Children are pure, but only until they are tainted by the malice of accusatory adults, imposing their opinions of others upon the child. In Search of Adam explains this with compassion and shocking power. Jude’s search for Adam is ultimately a search for untainted and innocent life.
By Jen Tomkins
Caroline Smailes’ novella Disraeli Avenue
will be available as a free to download ebook from February 18th, 2008 is now available as a free to download ebook from here. It is about the street that is the backdrop to In Search of Adam. You are encouraged to donate whatever you can to the charity One in Four, which provides counselling services for adults who were abused as children. Read about Disraeli Avenue here. We covered this project earlier here.