Friday, 14 September 2012

A review of "Ketchup Clouds" by Annabel Pitcher

Hi Folks in the Smoke,

    I've been lucky enough to get a sneaky, advance copy of Annabel Pitcher's upcoming novel "Ketchup Clouds". I adored her sparkling debut "My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece" and was waiting with bated breath for this. So, with excitement just-about-contained, I thought I'd share it
with you.

    Where "My Sister…" followed 10-year-old  Jamie, "Ketchup Clouds" is an older affair. Our narrator this time out is a 15-year-old girl who is suffocating with guilt and grief. She gives herself the pseudonym "Zoe".

    The tale is beautifully wrought and I don't want to spoil any of the dramatic twists, so I'll stay sparse on plots details. Suffice to say Zoe has two younger sisters, a pair of stressed parents, a loyal and charismatic best friend, as well as studies to attend to and various social trials and tribulations to endure. But there are also two boys around whom most of the action revolves.

      Pitcher has Zoe pour her heart out through letters that she writes to an American death row prisoner, Stuart. It's meant to be a charitable act but becomes a confessional for Zoe, a way for her to divulge and eventually understand what's happened in the past year - she is a searingly honest narrator. This device is very powerful as it contrasts crime and guilt, conscience and prison. While we never read Stuart's replies we do see Zoe soften and become more comfortable and confiding as the forms of address and the sign offs evolve through the novel.

     I did weep when I finished "My Sister" and so there was a level of expectation that Pitcher might put me through the ringer again. She does, but in a different, teenaged way and so I was left with a sense of heartache rather than being convulsed in tears - but that's a great thing; she's a skilled, sophisticated crafter of story, not just a heartstring-tugger. And she's a more accomplished, confident writer this time out - she tells us things at her own pace, teasing us and reflecting the anxious nature of Zoe. While the reveal isn't a complete shock, that might merely be a reward for attentive reading.

    Pitcher's style is emotionally eloquent, weaving a story of teen uncertainty, of loss and of feeling lost, with tenderness and attitude, warmth and wit. Zoe is very real, you can hear her drafting her letters, see her crouched over the page in the dead of night, feel her conflicting emotions. She is a sincere, knowing and endearing character.
   I'd recommend this for fans of Pitcher but also for anyone who has enjoyed the likes of "Solace of the Road", "What I Was" and "The Sky is Everywhere". Hers is a powerful new voice with versatility and passion, and most importantly a talent for telling original stories.

   Thanks for reading,

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