My first read of 2013 was A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon. I have a paperback copy, kindly sent by Ali, but it is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.
The first thing to note about the book is its cover, it has a pleasant, tactile quality and a striking design. Few writers get to choose the cover design for their work but in this case the designer is Ali's daughter, Ellie.The cover is stylish and it actually represents elements of the story, such a rare occurrence in modern novels, I find.
Between the Lines for a long time and I have also read some of her short stories. I wasn't sure that I would enjoy the subject matter though: a young Scottish girl with a troubled background embarking on her adult life with more than the usual number of questions and challenges to face. But I was hooked from the start and I found myself abandoning the post-Christmas clearing up in order to escape to a quiet place to finish reading the book.
Ailsa has just left school and should be heading for the Highlands with her friend, Faye, to enjoy working on a summer camp before starting her first term at Edinburgh University. Fate intervenes when Ailsa's mother develops one of her mysterious bouts of illness and Ailsa reluctantly decides not only to miss the summer trip but also to live at home and commute to Edinburgh instead of sharing student accommodation with Faye.
Ailsa's mother asks her to buy some fish for supper and that is the beginning of the fishy metaphor that is cleverly sustained throughout the novel. More than one 'kettle of fish' is stirred up when Ailsa meets up with the fishmonger's son and embarks on an impulsive, unsatisfactory romance. Ian introduces her to his friend Andy and a series of coincidences that set her on the search for the truth about her absent father.
There are lots of strands to this story, lots of twists and turns and surprises. I found I was very willing to suspend my disbelief at the number of coincidences that led to the unravelling of the mysteries because it is a good story, told convincingly. The portrayal of Ailsa as an intelligent, strong and yet vulnerable girl, getting into scrapes but managing to avoid disaster is very realistic. Many of the situations she finds herself in stir long-forgotten memories of first encounters with teenage boys, alcohol, unsuitable older men, leaving home and having to make life-changing decisions. Anyone who went straight from school to college will identify with this.
The writing is lively and energetic, there is lots of action but there is also sensitivity and wisdom in the observation of the characters. I don't want to give any spoilers, you must read the book to discover the surprising truth about Ailsa's parents. It is a good book to start the year.
I have one copy of A Kettle of Fish to give away. Leave a comment here before Friday 18 January if you would like to win it. I will post it anywhere in the world. Good luck!