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Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes

Black Boxes (2008)

by Caroline Smailes

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Ana Lewis is a woman who has had a tough life. She loves her ex, Alex, so much, but he doesn't love her and in fact has treated her appallingly. She in turn neglects her children, Pip and Davie. Ana is incredibly depressed, and we know from the blurb that she will be dead from an overdose by the end of the book. The story of Ana's decline is disturbing and distressing, as she records her life from meeting Alex into a black box (just like the ones that contain flight data and are recovered after the event to try to ascertain what went wrong). The prose is unusual to say the least, but this is a book that a reader can literally fly through, despite the nature of the subject matter.

In the middle of Ana's black box recordings is Pip's diary. I actually found Pip's section much more disturbing, as she is a 14 year old girl who has no self-esteem and allows herself to be used, but is so naive with it. It is a great example of the effect bad parenting can have upon a child, and I felt so sorry for her as she gets bullied and abused. She communicates with her young brother Davie mainly by signing, as Ana doesn't like any noise in their squalid flat. Davie regularly soils his bed and his clothes.

Caroline Smailes certainly writes interesting and thought-provoking books. In Search of Adam, which is a similar style to this book, was one of my favourite reads of 2009. She provides a real insight into depression in Black Boxes. I don't think her work would suit everybody and a potential reader should think carefully about whether they want to read a book that contains such issues and a lot of crude language (that isn't a criticism of the book on my part, simply an observation), but I think the author has a unique voice for which she deserves greater recognition, and I hope she continues to write such captivating and intriguing books. ( )
  nicx27 | Mar 16, 2010 |
Black Boxes is a story focusing on a woman called Ana and her family. It's told as though the reader is investigating the wreckage of Ana's life with Alex, trying to figure out where and how it all went wrong.

Ana is all the more heartbreaking for being very aware of all the mistakes she has made over the years. She is picking over the ruins of her life with Alex, trying to blink away some memories and hold onto others; trying to find out where she went wrong, aware that if she doesn't find them soon she may never discover the truth. In some ways her story reads like a play; with silences and sound effects which give depth to what she is saying.

Pip has to take care of herself and Davie, her younger brother, because Ana has withdrawn from them both. Ana can't bear to hear them speak, so they learn to spell words with their fingers. Some words are spelled out in Pip's diary; I had to flip backwards and forwards to the key provided in the front and back covers, giving some idea of how strained communication must be - not just between Pip and Davie, but between all the characters in this story.

Ana, Pip and Davie are beautifully drawn characters. I cared deeply about their fate. The final words, spelled out in signs at the end of the book, almost broke my heart.

This is an excellent, beautifully written, gut-wrenching book. Definitely recommended. ( )
  dianestm | Dec 3, 2009 |
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A Promise. For my son, Jacob. For my son, Benjamin. For my daughter, Poppy Elisabeth.
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Context. 1. Black Box (noun)
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This is the second novel from the author of the acclaimed 'In Search of Adam'. It is the tale of Ana, a woman whose obsession with the past causes her to neglect her children. It is also the tale of her daughter Pip, who - left to fend for herself - seeks affection wherever she can find it. Originally published: London: Friday, 2008.… (more)

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