Attend by West Camel Orenda Books December 13th 2018
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah. Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne
and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises. With echoes of Armistead Maupin, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely
wrought characters and set against the unmistakable
backdrop of Deptford and South London.
Firstly it is so hard to believe that this is a debut novel, so rich was the narrative, so carefully crafted were its characters.
I loved Camel’s descriptions of Deptford, the new high rise flats blending with the old terraced houses on the bank of the Thames and he was wonderfully adept at weaving this into the main narrative of the story. If I thought this was good, it was his characters that clearly stood out.
Anne, recovering drug addict attempting to atone for her past life, attempting to make amends with the daughter that she abandoned, was full of remorse and guilt and I loved her fragility. I did wonder if that fragility would be her downfall, but she seemed to have an inner strength and resolve that slowly materialised.
Sam, you felt was looking for something, for acceptance and love and when he did find it, it was the decisions he had to make that formed the basis of his own personal story.
It was the character of Deborah that enthralled. She was an ethereal figure and at some points, as you will discover when you read Attend, I did question wether she was actually real. She was the linchpin of the novel, the figure that everything whirled around and it was her relationship with Anne and Sam that was most intriguing.
Was it chance that Deborah first met Anne and then Sam, was it meant to be? For me, the answer was yes, she was there to show them how to live, how to move on and get on with the rest of their lives. The fact that Anne and Sam were unaware of Deborah’s relationship with the other was used brilliantly and I did wonder how or if they would all come together. Camel skilfully swirled them around, as other characters that were common to both Anne and Sam slowly crept into the story.
Deborah’s story was Deptford’s story, a story of a London borough through the wars, the destruction of the blitz and its rebuilding. It was a story of a young girl, with no one in the world to look after her, of the discovery of a piece of needlework that would stay with her and affect her life. You never quite knew if her stories of the needlework were actually true or were used to help Anne and Sam, but that didn’t matter as they were compelling and intriguing with a magical feel to them.
Yet, it wasn’t just about Deborah’s old life it was also about the world in which we now live in, and the many issues we now face. Crime played a part as Sam struggled to accept his new found love’s violent background, drugs, cancer and acceptance were other modern themes that Camel skilfully wove into the main body of the story.
The latter parts of the novel were wonderfully tense and dramatic, almost reading like a thriller, but measured in tone and pace, fitting in neatly with the overall feel of the novel.
I wasn’t quite sure what overall description I would give to Attend, its themes crossing so many genres from contemporary, to ghost story, to thriller, and for me that was the charm of this quiet, understated novel.
Attend was a novel of new beginnings, of hope, resilience, and courage, of small glimmers of sunlight peeking out through a dark and grim world. West Camel is an author to watch and I cannot wait to see what he will write next!
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of Attend to read and review and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist,
and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the BestEuropean Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations, including ghostwriting a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the European Literature Network. He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres. A highly anticipated debut, blending the magical realism of Angela Carter and the gritty authenticity of Eastenders and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.