And This is True, by Emily Mackie
To say that Emily Mackie’s debut novel is a thought-provoking and adventurous look at human relationships and the affect society has on them would be a bland understatement. And This is True is the story of Nevis Gow, a fifteen-year-old boy who has travelled the country in a caravan with his father since he was small. Nevis has never attended school and his father doesn’t work. Together the two of them scorn society and set out to take on the world.
But deep down, underneath the security and warmth he gains from the day-to-day life of the caravan, Nevis has a secret. He doesn’t just love his father; he’s in love with him. And when the duo finds themselves stranded and staying with a Highlands farming family, it is he who struggles to cling to their past life, refusing to let his father move on.
What I loved about this novel was that it wasn’t the straightforward coming-of-age tale that might be expected. Nevis is an interesting character: a confused and vulnerable individual lacking the common sense that helps us deal with society. This is noticeable in his unreliable narration; he has no real concept of what’s reality and what’s fiction. He takes us through memories that might have been dreams and, as a result, we can never really know the truth about his relationship with his father.
Nevis’ inability to decipher these memories and daydreams are strictly down to the fact that his only human contact has been with one person in an isolated environment. When we meet him, he and his father are already living with the Kerrs on a small farm in the Highlands. Though they are still quite isolated from every day society, this new contact with real people is overwhelming and, while it’s clear that his father wants to try and get back into a ‘normal’ way of living, Nevis spends his time daydreaming of memories past and desperately persuading his father to get back onto the open road.
In spite of his social awkwardness, Nevis is quite the sympathetic character. He can’t help the way he was raised and the fact that he sees things differently from other people. It is his naiveté that makes him endearing. I was reminded of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in that respect. Haddon’s protagonist, Christopher Boone, has Asperger’s and views the world in a different way to us. It’s these kinds of characters that give the reader a one-upmanship, a knowledge about the book’s events that the characters have yet to gain.
Nevis is a character very similar to Boone in that his closed off view of the world has left him unable to understand things that we can. What stops us from taking the upper level, however, is Nevis’ inability to give us a clear picture of where he’s come from and how he’s living. He drifts in and out of sleep and daydreams and can’t tell us which are his memories and what is his imagination. We drift into Nevis’ confused world and are never really able to get a full picture.
This novel isn’t for readers of an impatient nature. Luckily, I love stories that only give hints and snippets of reality. There’s something fascinating about a tale that starts slow and works its way up to a fierce climax. And This is True always keeps us keen by never allowing any revelation of whether Nevis’ narration is true or not. We have nothing else to compare it to so we must go along with him and believe him.
Though it touches on the subject of incest and other darker themes, particularly death, And This is True is a wonderful look at human relationships. Nothing about it is predictable and it often poses the question about whether society is really the enemy or not. An intriguing debut from a young author; I look forward to what else she brings us in the future.
Reviewed by Ceri Padley