THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER-FREE
Attend is the highly anticipated debut novel from editor and journalist West Camel. Many thanks to @AnneCater at Random Things for inviting me on the #BlogTour and to #TeamOrenda for the review copy.
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.
Orenda Books is weaving an incestuous web. One which serves not only to build a solid fanbase for its authors, but which also makes the reader feel like part of a proper community, where the loyalty and enthusiasm work both ways.
Put simply, Orenda have mastered the art of PR with heart.
So I won’t lie, having already experienced West’s talents as an editor, via the brilliant #Snare and #Trap by @lilja1972 – also published by Orenda – his debut novel was one that I had waited for with baited breath.
I am by no means a lazy reader and don’t need to be spoon fed; I don’t mind being slightly confused by a plot now and again and having to double-back on myself for the odd re-read in order to straighten things out in my head. In return however, I do expect the author to use a language and writing style which makes that process as effortless as possible. And in West Camel I have found exactly that.
In fact, so beautifully relaxed is West Camel’s writing style, that no sooner had I started reading, my mind immediately began the search for a way to describe it. And then, after a few chapters, it struck me.
In the exact same way that the book’s central character Deborah captivated Anne and Sam with her far-fetched historical tales, I actually felt that West was in the room reading his book to me. So easy and natural is his language and so effortless to read, that it somehow felt like I wasn’t reading at all, but listening.
So with that said, it took no time at all for me to feel as though I was ‘in’ this book. Every time I picked it up, I was in Deptford. I was unsure at first whether or not Attend was turning into a ghost story – which I’ll be honest, is a genre that normally results in me switching off. But such was the intrigue created by the author, that I was compelled to stay with it – and the rewards were more than worth it.
It was astounding to me how seamlessly the scenes switched from violent thuggery, to tender friendship, with not a hint of effort from West. One minute Anne had a man’s hands around her throat and the next she was sharing a moment of innocent closeness with Sam, with no ulterior motive whatsoever. Lovely.
As the story unfolded I also found myself becoming increasingly proud of Anne. Having pulled herself out of a grimy past by her bootstraps, the scene at the christening was pure joy – you could feel her confidence and self-esteem blossoming with every passing sentence.
But of course the star of the show is Deborah. And for me, there is a stand out scene that warmed my heart so much that for the first time ever, I was forced to cause book damage by turning down the corner of a page (I know – I’m sorry!).
The scene in question involves Deborah’s first encounter with ‘the Draper’ on a hot day set in 1930. The dialogue is so sympathetic to the era, that it feels completely weightless:
“I think he saw me looking at him across the street and I hoped he couldn’t see my blush from that distance. Everyone had a high colour that day, I thought.”
Deborah’s mysterious existence is positively Narnian. Every time she appeared in front of me, I wanted to delve deeper; to follow her through those doors. She drew me into her world in much the same way Enid Blyton drew an 8-year-old me into the branches of the Faraway Tree. Was she simply a fantasist? Could she be trusted? Regardless of whatever the truth might be, something in me did trust her. Just like Anne and Sam trusted her, albeit tentatively and in a roll-your-eyes ‘here she goes again’ kind of way.
In a world where plot-twists and shockers reign supreme, #Attend represents a return to masterful, artistic storytelling – in complete harmony with its own themes, it is a gentle thread running through a dark tapestry.
So where on earth does West Camel go from here? I can’t wait to find out.
About the author:
Born and bred in south London West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch.
He currently combines his work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations. He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres.
Check out what everyone else on the #BlogTour thinks: