I may not be reading many Christmas-themed books but that doesn’t mean I don’t like a bit of magic this time of year. If you also want to mix intensity with a little bit of light-heartedness, I have the book for you.
Attend* by West Camel is centered around three main characters: Sam, Anne and Deborah. 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, storyteller 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.
You are probably wondering where the magic in Attend is. Well, it lies with Deborah, perhaps the most intriguing character in the book. While she is very much a reality for Sam and Anne, it’s not clear if anyone else in Deptford can see her – or if she is even there for the reader. It remains an open question throughout the book: who is Deborah? An immortal person, like she says? A ghost? A figment of their imagination. That’s up to you to decide but whatever she is, she does a great job of threading the lives of herself, Sam and Anne together (hence the cover image).
The chapters alternate between the three main characters. Deborah has a moving story but so does Anne. Anne is a recovering heroin addict who is trying to piece her life and her relationship with her family back together. I like that Anne is a fighter, a real person who has taken hard knocks but who is ready to stand back up again. Sam, who is struggling to accept his sexuality and other past hardships that I won’t mention here, is also a pretty real character. However, I didn’t find him as likable as the two women. He is much younger than them and his immaturity shone through at times in a way that ultimately turned me off him.
Several themes run through Attend. Loneliness somehow makes Deborah invisible but I don’t think this is an issue attributed solely to her. Anne is also invisible, pushed out and mostly ignored by her family because of past mistakes. There are also some emotional scenes when Sam goes to a bar in order to meet someone and we get a strong image of him standing by the bar alone and unseen. All three also share the regret of lives wasted and decisions made, binding them together even closer.
Overall, I would call Attend a magical realism book with a touch of historical fiction. A mix I never read before but rather liked. There wasn’t very much not to like, in fairness. Besides the characters, it included beautiful descriptions touched with emotion, enough to move me.
What do you think? Will you be reading Attend?
I was sent a copy of this book in return for an honest review.