Chris Parker gathers together those moments that go to make up Emma and Madryn’s friendship over the years, splicing them together with anecdotes about a Toronto couple who post videos on YouTube and everyday happenings from Emma’s family life, all the while making frequent switches in time and place, to create his kaleidoscopic debut novel, Nameless Lake.
Emma and Madryn grow up with dreams of escaping their seaside hometown, sustained by an obsession with photography and secret acts of vandalism. But adulthood brings its own limitations, and Emma yearns for connection beyond the constraints of her family.
Drawn deeper into Madryn’s private life, Emma feels new possibilities awakening within herself, but when Madryn faces a backlash from her controlling partner, Emma must finally break out of her role as passive observer.
Initially, I felt as if I were watching a flickering cine film as we bounced between calls to therapists and a weekend away but I soon fell into the rhythm of Chris Parker’s hypnotic storytelling and grew to love the rapid switches in time and place. The novel takes us from 1970 to the present day, from schooldays in their seaside home town to the joint adult worlds of work and family life, and from backpacking adventures to city breaks in Europe. My butterfly mind relished these shifts and the way it reflects how our minds work, firing off thoughts in different, decidedly non-linear directions, which bounce around like a ball-bearing in a bagatelle from desire to memory to emotion and from anecdote to omission and off again. And yes, it also sent me off down an internet rabbit hole while I searched maps for Nameless Lake and YouTube for the couple from Toronto, or their inspiration.
Chris Parker makes clever use of the women’s shared enthusiasm for photography while quietly putting together his own portfolio of their lives through Emma’s recollections, with all the associated emotions and desire. I enjoyed getting to know the two women and the story of their friendship, although seeing them only through Emma’s perspective left me with questions and also had me willing her to be much less passive and slow to react.
I was fascinated by their school photography projects and railed against the adult response to them. Even if I understood some of the reservations, there was little attempt to understand or appreciate the time and effort they put in or even what they were attempting to capture, let alone any encouragement to keep experimenting. This rejection makes them abandon it for something altogether more destructive but which does grab people’s attention, and it’s interesting to see where continued perceived slights and hurt or rejection inform Emma’s later choices.
Nameless Lake is every bit as much about what it is that prevents us from acting or what we keep to ourselves as it is about what we actually do and say to each other. I found it fascinating to see how Emma reads and perceives Madryn’s words and actions but also how or even if she chooses to respond and react. You can hear her running through the options and how it might look or be taken by Madryn, almost as if she’s having a fraught negotiation with herself. Her tense inner monologue only serves to underline the complexity of their friendship and what’s in play here. It also made me consider (read: possibly fret) about whether I do this and to what extent but that’s a whole other blog post. Or not.
This book captures the essence of an enduring friendship between two women who’ve known each other since childhood. Nameless Lake shimmers with humour and resilience, is even giddy with fierce love at times, while also plumbing those murkier depths of our baser feelings and emotions. And Chris Parker reveals all of this to us in much the same way as Emma’s work in art restoration and conservation does a painting. Fragment by fragment, he uncovers the layers that have accumulated over the years and brings their friendship into sharper, almost forensic, focus so that Emma and his readers can examine it and hopefully come to appreciate where its true power and beauty lies.
Chris Parker takes his fragments, those fleeting moments in our lives, and transforms them into an absorbing anatomy of a friendship. Nameless Lake both dazzles and has real depth to it and I can only recommend you read it.
Nameless Lake by Chris Parker is published by Salt Publishing and is available as an ebook and in paperback from the publisher here. Or from Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org (affiliate link), Hive or Waterstones.
Chris Parker is a screenwriter for television and also a prolific animation writer, with hundreds of credits. He was born in South Wales and lives with his family in Cambridge. You can follow him on Twitter.