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Without Alice by DJ Kirkby

I am thrilled to welcome D.J. Kirkby to The Nut Press today. D.J. is here as part of a blog tour to promote her debut novel Without Alice.

I was lucky enough to meet D.J. Kirkby at a book launch* in May. Since then, I’ve read D.J.’s first book, From Zaftig to Aspie, which is an incredible sensory memoir filled with beautiful descriptions from her extraordinary childhood. We’ll be meeting again at the beginning of October for another book launch in London and this time it’s for her debut novel, Without Alice.

Before I even held a copy of the book in my hand, I wondered who the Alice of the title was and who the someone was that couldn’t be without her and why?

There’s an attractive but wistful-looking young man being hugged by a woman on the book’s cover. So… is the woman on the cover Alice or is he holding someone else while thinking about Alice? Here’s what the blurb has to say on the back of the book:

Have you ever had a secret? One so important that it feels as if it will tear you in two? Stephen’s got one. He’s also got a great job, beautiful wife and an adorable son. Outwardly his life seems perfect but it means nothing without Alice. Read Without Alice and meet a man who you will love to hate until you learn to love him.

Okay, so this establishes that it’s Stephen who can’t manage without Alice but it’s not giving much else away, is it? Especially not about who Alice is or why she’s so important to him. I absolutely had to know the answers but, when I started reading, it quickly became apparent that D.J. Kirkby wasn’t about to tell me anytime soon.

The book starts with a prologue set in July 1977: three seemingly unconnected couples, one of them pregnant; one giving birth and the other ‘enjoying’ early parenthood. After reading it, I just had more questions: who are they? and what do they and their individual stories have to do with each other (if anything)?

Chapter One opens with a birth. Now I had another question: why do people write such graphic birth scenes? (No, I am not a mother. Yes, I am a complete wuss.)

Within a very few pages, I put my initial queasiness and outstanding questions to one side. I was hooked, caught up in people’s lives and sucked into their story, as if I were in the same room and living through it with them in real time. D.J. Kirkby’s writing is extraordinary and dazzling. She works on every one of your senses: the world she creates feels so real that the characters are more like people you know whom you’re eavesdropping.

D.J. does something remarkable in this, her debut novel. She makes her main character intensely unlikeable and sustains this for half the book. That’s difficult for a reader to cope with and potentially disastrous in the hands of the wrong author. But D.J. has a light touch and handles it deftly. I knew from the blurb that I wasn’t supposed to like Stephen initially (“meet a man who you will love to hate until…”) but I was surprised at how strongly I raged against him throughout Part One. But I didn’t throw the book at the wall or stop reading because, not only did I still want to know who Alice was and why she mattered so much to him, but I also had to know why he was behaving in this way to people I liked and sympathised with. There seemed no good reason for it.

D.J. drops the reader hints and clues along the way but she doesn’t fully explain Stephen or his behaviour until Part Two. I had my theories as to what was behind it all and an idea as to who Alice was but I couldn’t put the book down until I had the answers. Then I had to keep reading to find out if and how it would all be resolved.

Without Alice looks at the important relationships in our lives and raises questions about duty, loyalty and love within those same relationships. But, perhaps most interesting of all for this reader, the book forces you to look at how quickly and easily you can form an opinion or reach a conclusion about someone, not knowing all there is to know about them, only to have to later reassess it when you have more information available to you.

Without Alice is an incredibly accomplished debut novel. It’s a story with many strands to it but somehow D.J.Kirkby threads them all seamlessly together to create an enthralling and credible whole. It is a harrowing story, beautifully told, and one which shows the redemptive power of love. She is a gifted storyteller, an exciting writer to watch, and I can’t wait to read what she does next.

I have one copy of the book to give away (UK only). Just leave a ‘Pick Me’ comment below by Friday, 3rd September 2010. You can find details of more competitions to win a copy of Without Alice (one of which ends today and another tomorrow) here.

Without Alice is published by Punked Books and is available exclusively from the Punked Books’ website before it goes on general sale on 4th October 2010, although you can also now buy it from amazon.co.uk. Watch the promotional video for Without Alice or join in the discussion on the Without Alice Facebook page. If you would like to know more about the author, D.J.Kirkby has a Website, and a Blog. You can also Follow D.J. Kirkby on Twitter.

* The May book launch was for Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes. (You can read about the launch here and read my review of the book here.)

Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes

You know that feeling you sometimes get when you step off an aeroplane in a Mediterranean country? When the warm air envelops you like a deep sigh? Your whole body relaxes and that’s the moment when you realise that you’re in a foreign country, and now properly on holiday. That’s how it feels to open the pages of Like Bees to Honey and start reading.

The Lucky Books

As you’ll have noticed from the dates of this blog post and its predecessor, I’ve had an extended break from blogging. First, I was on holiday in Scotland for a fortnight and then I returned home, refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to concentrate on little else but my current WiP. So, yes, I’ve been writing and not much else over the last few weeks. Okay, okay, I may have been tweeting and reading, as well. But only a little bit, honest.

I imagine that, for those of you anxiously waiting to find out which books I took away with me on holiday, the past few weeks have been torture. Sleepless nights and anxious days rather like the time(s) when you’ve been expecting to hear from a loved one, or about a job interview, or for exam results… No? Oh, okay then. No matter. But here are the books that were fortunate enough to make it into the book bag and come away on holiday with me. The lucky winners! I’m going to be doing reviews of some of these on the blog but, in the meantime, here are the titles and authors, together with how and why they made the cut:

  • Not So Perfect by Nik Perring (Roastbooks Ltd) – I love reading short stories and cannot go anywhere without taking some with me. This is a brilliant collection of short stories and came in a very handy travel size.
  • Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith (Voyager Classics) – An online pal kept quoting MMS in emails and chats, and recommended this book as a good introduction to the author. I promised him that I’d read it when I had some time on holiday. I am so glad I made that promise and now intend to track down MMS’ entire back catalogue. Yes, it was that good!
  • Peaceweaver by Judith Arnopp (YouWriteOn.com) – I was fortunate enough to listen to a reading from this book and meet the author at a Writers’ Day in west Wales. Either of those alone would have been enough to make me want to read the book. The two combined meant that I absolutely had to.
  • Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes (The Friday Project, an Imprint of Harper Collins) – I met (twet?) Caroline on Twitter and went to the London launch of this book where we met IRL. It seemed the perfect book to take on holiday as it’s set on the island of Malta. (I know I went to Scotland but still, this felt like it would be an ideal holiday read…)
  • Eva Shell by Kate North (Cinnamon Press) – This is the book that I ran back into the house and grabbed (refer to previous post for my book selection process). I’ve been meaning to get to it for some time now and simply hadn’t got around to it. Kate North was the tutor of the very first writing group I went to in 2003. I’d read some of her poetry before but have wanted to read this, her debut novel, since I bought it.
  • The Schoolboy by Holly Howitt (Cinnamon Press) – I was asked to read this book in order to compare it to TAG (see below).
  • TAG by Stephen May (Cinnamon Press) – I had to read this and wanted to read it. I was asked to review it for Square magazine (my review is in Issue 8 of the magazine which is now on sale and available here) but I also wanted to read it because I had met Stephen while on a Writer’s Retreat at Moniack Mhor in Scotland. He read the first chapter of this book at the end of that week and I knew back then that I wanted to read the finished book when it came out.

So there you have them. My rather wonderful travelling companions. Have you read any of them? If not, which books did you whisk away from the bookshelf this summer?

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