Mythology is as old as the sands of time themselves. It is where our history started, our belief systems began, where story came from. They influence our habits, whether we know it or not, are reflected through history in a variety of different ways.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes is a new myth for the modern day-it is a twisting and entwining of the Greek myths of Apollo and Daphne, Pollux and Castor, Jason and Medea.
Smailes has created a tapestry of a story, an interwoven narrative that is entertaining in its own right. However, the awesome bit is that, if you know your history and myths and legends, the story takes on a new kind of resonance.
Instead of being a bland retelling of a myth, it becomes something of its own. Trust me on this one. I recently sat through a play set around Ovid’s myths. The stage was a two tier pool. The top one was in the centre of the stage with space in between where the actors would appear.
The actors really swam in both pools of water. The backdrop to this play was a dark and haunting electronic lines of blue and white-think Matrix here. The music was really amazing (except when there was singing) and the design incredible.
That is the kindest thing I can say about the play. I did however picture that set when reading The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. I have never been inside a proper bathhouse, so I wouldn’t have anything else to compare it to. I can only hope the author can forgive my imagination.
Smailes had typically written about troubled people before. Her debut, In Search of Adam, was about a girl trying to find herself. Black Boxes was about a woman who wanted to lose herself. Her third novel, Like Bees to Honey, an international best-seller, was about a woman who went looking for what she left behind.
That’s what makes The Drowning of Arthur Braxton different: its voice is predominately male. Make no mistake, you will meet many people in these pages. You have Arthur Braxton, neglected at home and beat up at school. He meet Delphina and Laurel in an old abandoned public bath that hides some pretty terrible things; and there’s Silver. Always Silver. It is the story of Kester and Pollock, two old men with a secret, it is the story of the world and the refuge that Arthur finds at the Oracle.
He is entranced with the always swimming Delphina. He skips school to spend time with her. In doing so, he finds himself falling into modern day myth that was part comedy, part romance, part coming of age. Oh, and it a myth, so you can’t forget the tragedy.
I ached for Arthur, that is how brilliantly Smailes has written his story. I also cheered for him, yelled at him, thought of him, hoped for him. He was someone all of us know, that all of us have inside us. We are always trying do to whatever we can to fit in, even if it will cost us what we love most. At least we were-everyone remembers high school right? His story if incredibly well told. If I didn’t know the name on the cover, so convincingly has the author told Arthur’s story.
Caroline Smailes has always delivered and her stories always have a character that you’re drawn to. First it was Jude and then it was Ana and Nina and in her eBook novella, 99 Reasons Why, we are given the story of Kate. Her protagonists and their story are her greatest achievement. From the first page her characters grab hold of you, the story sinks into you and then you are held enraptured. For a little while afterwards, everything you try to read doesn’t draw you in. You are left haunted by the story for a little while and want to read it again; at least I do.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is no exception, but it is the first time Smailes has chosen to write mainly from the point of view of a male. It’s a bold move. Something that takes the book into the stratosphere. Think of the brilliance of The Fault With Our Stars by John Green, anything by Meg Rosoff (especially There is No Dog), mix in a little Christopher Moore (particularly Sacre Bleu and Fool) and you’ve got something that is close to the brilliance of this book.
When I first started reading, I wondered what story Caroline Smailes had gifted us this time around. Instead, like a very good story, after a few words, I stopped wondering and just enjoyed.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is a brilliant retelling of myth, a fantastic reference to pop culture with a bit of magic thrown in. If Caroline’s intention was to put a spell on the reader, the consider me spellbound. I urge you to pre-order this book, no, I implore you. I want you fall under the spell that her novel creates.
Like all good myths, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes goes on the keeper shelf. It’s a modern classic on par with The Wizard of Oz or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.
All I can tell you is to read this book. That it is a beautiful story incredibly told. I can’t wait to fall under its spell a second time.