Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Amanda Coe, What They Do In The Dark

I don't remember why I bought this book, I may have seen a review of it some months ago, or someone might have recommended it to me.  Anyway it was an interesting read, though not a pleasant one.  Set against the background of a film shoot in the mid-1970s, it is superficially about an unlikely relationship between two girls from very different backgrounds, but in fact is a coming of age story and is about character and the crushing of assumptions.  As a great many books are.  The most obvious word for it is "dark" - but that implies that Something Horrid Happens and you guess what it is from about page 17.  Not the case here.  Something Horrid does indeed happen, and it is shocking, and I still feel a bit sick from having read it yesterday, but it is Not What You Think.

I don't know how old Amanda Coe is, but I suspect she is too young to remember what life was like in England in the mid-1970s, at least as an adult.  The period detail is there, and is OK, but there is not quite enough of it, and it does not quite convince - as if she does not have the confidence to put it all in.  A book that starts with the obituary of a child star and has the context of a film starring Dirk Bogarde as a paedophile (well, who else would you have cast, in the 1970s?) might be about exploitation and corruption, might it not?  No, actually, in this case.

Amanda Coe has, apparently, written scripts for the TV programme Shameless, which I have seen once or twice and found lame and unconvincing.  It shows.  I didn't grow up on a sink estate, but I know that people from Rough Backgrounds are not really as she writes them.  I know enough to know that.  The character of the child Pauline, from just such a background, deserves a more rounded treatment than she gets.  But the fact that I can even write this in this way shows that I believed in the characters, to an extent - I could also immediately see all the characters in a TV series.  Which is presumably what Amanda Coe intended.  I wonder if it will happen.  I can't say I liked this book, but I was mad to know what happened next, and ill with dread at the Something Horrid that looms larger with every page you turn (which I didn't, because I read it on a Kindle, but you know what I mean).  And that's no small achievement.  This was her first novel, and I shall look out for what she comes up with next.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I shall get this. And if you have not read 'This is How' by MJ Hyland, then do!

I can see links a plenty. I have not read the one - but they feel like two of a kind. And I thought that the MJ Hyland was bizarre and weird and really , really odd in a nasty way. Which made it just terrific.

Jonny said...

Amanda Coe was born in 1965. I have this on order from the library, so thanks for no spoilers.

Jane Griffiths said...

explains why she is so assured on the conversations of ten-year-old girls in the mid-1970s, more than I could be, as I am older. Cool anyway, let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

I bought it yesterday - without reading it yet I am thinking Cat's Eye by Margaret Attwood - also I'm The King of the Castle by Susan Hill and most of all the brilliant This is How by MJ Hyland.

Jane Griffiths said...

and the MJ Hyland now downloaded

Jane Griffiths said...

Cat's Eye may be in my top five of all books ever, not sure

Anonymous said...

And snap.


She may, on reflection have been influenced by Elizabeth Bowen's The Little Girls - but rather outstrips it, good as the Bowen is.

MJH is just extremely disturbing.

Mrs Jonny said...

I sat and read this in a couple of sittings on Saturday having collected it for Mr M from the library. It is, as you say, a dark read and I personally was not expecting the ending. As someone who was 11 in 1975 I related to some of the period details; Gemma's fear of being "done" for getting home late certainly rang true for me! I remember there being girls like Pauline at school; I only hope that their home lives were not as bleak as hers.