Posted 20 hours ago

Deep Down: the 'intimate, emotional and witty' 2023 debut you don't want to miss

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I agree with one reviewer who said that the author is a 'human story- teller' but disagree that she is 'hilarious' as I didn't find much humour in the book. Intermittent scenes show episodes from this history that allow the reader glimpses of the threat that shadowed Tom and Billie through childhood. Even so, they didn't spend that much time together and they were cordial the entire time so it felt like the tension was diluted. There was potential for some interesting explorations on family dynamics, domestic violence and complicated grief, but that didn't happen here. Billie's chair screeches and she begins to pick up bits of a jar with a careful thumb and forefinger.

The passage about how they used to try and make each other laugh in church particularly brought me back.The subterranean climax introduces a note of the uncanny that doesn’t quite convince, and the ending feels unresolved, though perhaps this is in keeping with the idea that the “möbius strip” of complex grief does not allow for tidy closure.

The story is about Tom and Billie, they have both had a bereavement in the family and seeing as they both are so far away from each other they decide to reconnect and hope that being together will help with the grief. They put themselves in an unnecessary situation and it's hard for me to feel for them, for that reason.

Perhaps we could have used another character - like a sibling or a cousin - who has kept in touch with both siblings to help bridge the gap, and keep the action, communication, and tension between our main characters. When their explorations lead them to the infamous Paris catacombs, they will finally be forced to face the secrets lurking in their past that illuminate the questions in their present.

Imogen handles complicated family dynamics and the unspoken things that come between us with remarkable sensitivity and insight, as well as perfect dark humour that is so much a part of navigating grief. Anyone who knew of Imogen West-Knights as one half of the pitch-perfect satirical Twitter account Bougie London Literary Woman might have made assumptions about how her first novel would look: perhaps a smart, witty comedy skewering pretensions in the world of media or publishing. But those who have encountered loss will recognise how agonisingly apt the backdrop is here – a strange place of echoes, shadows and impenetrable darkness. The characters are relatively interesting and seeing how their perspectives on their alcoholic father’s life diverge towards the end of the text provided good character development for both. Both are drifting, distant from each other and their mother, until this death shakes to the foundation the defences they have built over the years against the violence of their family history.As the setting for the climax of Imogen West-Knights’s subtle and compelling debut Deep Down, it is certainly fitting: in the wake of their father William’s death, the siblings begin to explore hidden and submerged memories from their childhood. Billie, who has a ‘plain, mashed potato sort of face’, lives in London, while Tom (a failed actor, whose only success was in a Christmas advert) has moved to Paris to work in a bar. The narrative voice is fluent and assured, with an eye for detail and original images: a cup of tea is “crunchy with limescale”; clearing up after one of their father’s rages is “rebuilding the set on which their performance of normal life takes place”.

It wrestles, too, with the timeless question of how to form one’s own distinct adult identity in the shadow of a difficult parent. What initially seem to be the hallmarks of any repressed family – an inability to discuss death; tensions between divorced parents; a repeated insistence that everyone is ‘fine’ – become, as the novel unfolds, something far more disconcerting.There is a LOT of description of movement from one place to another, which I find absolutely exhausting as a reader. In prose with a spareness conveying the numbness of early bereavement, Deep Down shuttles between present and past, as well as between Tom and Billie’s very different but equally vulnerable perspectives. West-Knights is also skilful in her depiction of domestic abuse, rarely showing it directly; the potential for an outburst, and the way the children learn to recognise the warning signs, is more chilling than any description of a punch thrown. Millenials philosophising about mundane things while roaming around the streets of Paris and surviving on bread and water.

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