Review published on June 6, 2018.
This is Phil Whitaker’s sixth novel. But I only discovered this amazing writer earlier this year when I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Sister Sebastian’s Library from Nudge Books. I jumped at the chance to secure a copy of this most recent novel, You. I am still bewildered as to why this writer doesn’t enjoy a wider popularity for he certainly deserves too.
You can be appreciated on a number of levels. Firstly the language and the writing which is of the highest quality. Whitaker seems to put his prose together effortlessly creating word pictures and word thoughts that stay with you for several pages. Secondly his ability to characterise again seems to be effortless. I’m sure it isn’t! But for the reader it’s the end result that resonates and the characters here, especially Stevie, are real and substantially drawn. Thirdly, and arguably most importantly the theme of this book, parental alienation. If it’s not a term you’re familiar with, take heart. Neither was I. But I am now and how!
You tells the story of Stevie Vaughan, an artist and art therapist, who has been estranged from his much beloved daughter for the last seven years. In an explosion of imaginative prose Stevie revisits key events from his past with his daughter, addressing her, analysing, agonising. But what could be a polemic told from a first person perspective is not. Stevie seeks to offer, for the most part, a balanced view of what has occurred without attributing blame or recrimination to any large degree. As you are drawn into the narrative the implications become more harrowing. What disturbed me dreadfully was whether this book derives from first hand experience and is an act of catharsis for this writer. He writes so convincingly of his subject. If not then his research is impeccable. Prepare to be moved. Prepare to do some thinking. Prepare to do some rearranging of your previously held conceptions.
When you pick up a work of fiction there is an expectation that you will be entertained on some level. When you are educated too it can only be a bonus? I learnt a great deal from reading this book. Not necessarily factual knowledge but of states and situations that I had not considered before. Considerations about family, nature and nurture, the power of love to bind us.
In conclusion, my heart goes out to all those children and parents who are suffering right now, this very second. I hope this book goes some way to contribute to the healing process. But, hey, it can’t do that unless you all go and read it. Please?
Gill Chedgey 4/5
You by Phil Whitaker
Salt 9781784631444 pbk Apr 2018
SECOND OPINION: A Child Called Happiness by Stephan Collishaw