Emily Mackie’s debut novel is a hybrid of doomed love story and disorientating rite-of-passage. Fifteen-year old Neville Gow has spent eleven years living in his father Marshall’s van as they journey round Britain while Marshall works, fruitlessly it seems, on a series of novels. When Neville tries to kiss his father, Marshall stops their wanderings. They rejoin society among the Kerrs, a farming family in the Scottish Highlands beset by grief. For the first time Neville has to interact with people of his own age, the jittery, chain-smoking Duckman and the clumsily forward Ailsa, meanwhile watching helplessly as Marshall finds a lover. Neville only knows the van, a world that is reconstructed in asides that form an index of life before the unresolved kiss. To him, the meaning of things comes only through the filter of textbooks and Marshall’s literary ideas, talk from the aimless van years in which memory itself is said to be a form of fiction, as unreliable as the mother who deserted Marshall for a sculptor ‘renowned for chipping out grotesque images.’
Told as the story Neville writes to make sense of his present and past, and floating with moments of ambiguity, And This is True succeeds by constructing a vocal and vivid first-person narrator, loveable and pitiful, lurching from comic awkwardness to perilous error. Mackie shows remarkable lightness of touch and emotional insight throughout in what could be a queasy and gratuitous novel in the hands of a lesser writer.
Ashley Stokes’s first novel Touching the Starfish was published by Unthank Books in 2010. A collection of short stories, The Syllabus of Errors will appear later this year, also with Unthank Books. He lives in Norwich.