Breathing in Colour; Clare Jay; 280pp; Piatkus; £7.99
Clare Jay is a lecturer in creative writing who specialises in ‘dreaming into writing’ workshops. Her short stories and poetry have already won several prizes, including first place in the most recent Cinnamon Press writing award, with the extra-ordinary and powerful title story of the anthology, The Sandhopper Lover. In one sense it’s not surprising that her writing has been noticed by a solid, quality publisher; writing this good deserves to be read. What is refreshing is to see such innovative writing getting attention.
Breathing in Colour is a novel with a well mined theme, the disappearance of a child. The book opens with Alida receiving the news that her eighteen year old daughter, Mia, has gone missing while back packing in India and might well be dead. Like other novels in this genre there is a back story of pain and repressed memories and emotions that emerges slowly as the novel progresses. Into this mix is thrown a broken marriage and an uneasy relationship between Alida and Mia’s father, Ian, who is far too eager to dismiss Alida’s competence and theories. To complicate matters further Alida encounters Taos as she begins her search in India. A jaded and enigmatic Australian, who Alida is not wholly convinced is trustworthy, Taos has his own story that resonates with the main plot, enriching the narrative.
All of this alone would make for an interesting read, but the well developed, credible characters and a compelling plot are only the skeleton of a novel for a writer of Clare Jay’s talent. Alida is someone who has lucid dreams and Jay uses her considerable knowledge of this area to great effect. In less able hands the dreams could easily be clumsy and artificial; the use of dreams is ambitious and generally fails, but Jay deploys exactly the right language and control to ensure that Alida’s dreams are gripping, authentic and lift the narrative beyond the ordinary. And Jay doesn’t stop there. Mia has grown up with the condition of synaesthesia and interspersed with the third person narratives of Alida’s search and gradual epiphany are diary entries written by Mia and going back to her childhood. The imagery in these passages is stunning. So often debut novel writers simply over-write when they are trying to convey description, but Jay’s poetic sensibilities are stretched to the maximum here and results some of the most innovative imagery I’ve read in prose. The very best images combine surprise and lucid observation.
The result is one of the most poignant, humane, original and exquisitely written first novels I’ve come across. I’m proud that Cinnamon Press has published stories and poems by Clare Jay and I eagerly await her next novel. This is a writer with a truly unique voice and a willingness to take risks with form and language to produce something inventive. By the end of the novel I knew what it was to breathe in colour. Buy the book.
- Cinnamon Press
- Wales, United Kingdom
- Cinnamon Press is a small, independent publisher based in Wales & publishing the best new poetry and fiction with occassional non fiction and cross-genre titles. Books come from Wales, the UK and the world. We run writing competitions twice a year to find new voices in poetry and fiction with three categories (novel/novella; poetry; short stories) - each category has a cash prize plus publication. You can find our excellent list of titles at www.cinnamonpress.com