I read books. I review books. I talk to people about books. Books take up an immense proportion of my life. However, being a teenager, sometimes it is way too easy to slip into the sociocultural safety net of reading, reviewing and talking about YA books. They make sense to me. I relate to the characters, to the storyline, to the themes. Although I am precisely two months and eight days away from legally becoming an adult, I still feel somewhat wary of dipping into (but never completely moving on to) adult novels.
Therefore, when I was sent the beautifully-looking Orkney Twilight by anthropologist turned author Clare Carson, I was slightly doubtful at first. Would it be my cup of tea? Would I relate to it the same way I related to YA books? Would I get taken on a roller coaster of intense emotion and drama, even without a teenage narrator? All of these questions had already began to form in my mind before I had finished reading the blurb.
Subsequently, I discovered that I was wrong about two things. First: the narrator of Orkney Twilight was a teenager, the same age as me. Second: this was unlikely to be a book I could easily forget. The one thing I cannot resist about a novel is an awesome backstory... and Orkney Twilight failed to disappoint. Carson's father was an undercover policeman himself and in the novel she explores what it's really like to be so close to someone, yet not really know anything about them at all. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to Clare Carson all about writing unsettling narratives, creating the hugely diverse mix of characters within the novel, and what it was really like to have a Dad who also doubles as an undercover cop...
How did you find inspiration to write Orkney Twilight?
The inspiration came from two main sources. When I was a kid, my dad worked as an undercover cop. I thought of him as a master storyteller. The second source was our regular childhood holidays in Orkney - I was intrigued by the cairns and stone circles littering the island, the sense of ancient mysteries. The two fused in my mind as a story about individual and collective myth making.
The presentation of Jim in the novel is very ambiguous. How did you want the reader to feel about him as a character?
Ambiguous. The thrillers I love - the ones that raise unsettling moral questions - have ambiguous characters at their core. I don't think Jim is any more ambiguous than Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Having said that, Jim has a peculiar charisma, and some people who have read the book do adore him.
How far is Sam based on yourself in your teenage years?
Sam is nothing like me. She shares some of my teenage experiences, but she is a completely different character. One of my sources for Sam was Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Maybe I should have called the book Sam's Adventures in Undercoverland.
In Orkney Twilight, the reader travels along with Sam to discover the truth about Jim, which results in an unsettling narrative with many twists and turns. How did you achieve this effect?
My primary device for unsettling the narrative was using Sam's perspective to tell the story. The book is written in the third person, but everything is seen through her eyes. I understood Sam, in many ways, as a neo-noir protagonist in the Big Lebowski mould. She is an insider-outsider who doesn't know exactly what is going on, sometimes doesn't want to find out and isn't always capable of revealing what she thinks and feels. She sees many important events but doesn't necessarily interpret them correctly.
Tom seems to be portrayed as the one who is never afraid to ask questions. How integral is he to the progression of the story?
Tom is central. When the object of the story is as ambiguous as Jim, and the protagonist is as blurry-eyed and conflicted as Sam, you need a more focused character to keep the plot moving along the straight and narrow. Sam tries to sideline him. But then she would, wouldn't she?
Sum up Orkney Twilight in three words.
Who to believe?
But the novel isn't just about the backstory. Separated from it's dark history, it is as electric as it is gripping. Orkney Twilight is the kind of book that pulls you in from the start, and doesn't let you go until the very last page. Carson's language is clear and honest, slightly cynical and coldly empty where feeling is concerned; the build up of emotion not really setting in until the middle of the novel. You can really tell that the protagonist is a teenager, even though the story is told through a chilling and somewhat ambiguous third person narrative. Sam as a character is not immediately likeable, but I gradually warmed towards her as I realised how complex the tale that she set out to tell was. Tom was a welcome escape from the seriousness of Sam and the drunkenness and harsh temper of Jim; I liked him immediately and considered him a clever device to give some insight into the otherwise complex and mysterious story.
As for the plot itself, I found myself not only being swept away by the mystery and the excitement of the thriller twists, but also learning a lot as Carson delved into the rich history of the 1970s. Carson always kept you guessing, never giving you enough time to think, never leaving you space in your brain to make your own conclusions. You are not a passive reader of Orkney Twilight, but an active participant of the story. You are not watching Sam discover the truth about Jim and his ominous history, but helping her along the way.
My favourite part of Orkney Twilight was most definitely the character of Jim. He was a delicious character, the type most readers can only dream about, where you continually ask yourself whether it is actually possible to ever understand him.
One excerpt from the book illuminates this.
What she really missed was the double-edged reassurance of his presence, the sense of danger letting you know you were alive, the lack of certainty, the doubts about what was real, what was cover, the feeling that he was more reliable, more trustworthy than the people who played it straight. Because in her heart she knew that truth was little more than fool's gold and there were no solid facts in this world, only stories and cover-ups, and if you scraped the surface all you would find were more strange tales and sleights of hand and anyone who thought differently was living in a land of make-believe.
I think that sums up pretty well Orkney Twilight, and why I loved it so much.
If you want to get stuck into a thriller this summer, make Orkney Twilight that thriller. Trust me. You will not regret it.
Check out Clare Carson here: http://headofzeus.com/books/Orkney%20Twilight
Buy Orkney Twilight here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Orkney-Twilight-Clare-Carson-x/dp/1784080942