Tuesday, 19 April 2011

British Books Challenge 2011 - The Opposite of Amber by Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip writes like a dream.  Whether she's turning her hand to a fantasy Scotland where exiled Sithe faeries roam the land or, as here, a modern YA crime novel with a challenging subject, she's a winner from any reader's point of view.

I knew how The Opposite of Amber was going to end from the first page of the book.  What I didn't know (and Gillian made me sweat and gnaw my nails to find out) was how she was going to get me there.  Have no doubts, this is not a novel which pulls its punches. It deals with a very difficult subject indeed--and it does it sensitively and with great compassion.  Ruby, the 'heroine' is a great character--memorably described by Gillian as 'spoiled voiceless'. I loved her--she is finely written, a truly rounded creation who reminded me a little of Laurie Halse Anderson's Melinda Sordino in Speak, (about which I have written elsewhere).


But it is her older sister, Jinn, who made me cry with the sad inevitability of her fate.  In Jinn, Gillian shows how a series of small wrong-headed decisions made in the name of love can tip a young, well-meaning, caring girl into the kind of low-level 'unprofessional' prostitution which exists on the streets of every town.  Yes. Every town. Yours too.  Jinn loves Nathan, her no-good drug addict boyfriend (and as an aside here, the way Gillian deals with Ruby's initial innocence and eventual realisation about the paraphernalia of crack cocaine is no less than brilliant).  She wants--as many women do in abusive relationships--to save him.  To do that, she gives up everything--her home, her relationship with her sister, her job--and eventually, the rights to her own body, leading to her fate at the hands of a killer (and no, I'm not going to tell you who it is or anything more about that at all!).  She tries so hard, so desperately to make things right because she is first and foremost a carer--an enabler--although the one person she doesn't look after is herself.  Of course, we, as onlookers, know that whatever she does will never be enough to save Nathan--because the only one who can save him is himself. This is a brave, wonderful novel which should not just be read by teenagers.  It should be read by everyone who cares about making sure that the many real-life girls like Jinn who find themselves in situations similar to this can get help and support and above all knowledge that they absolutely can have other choices in their lives. Buy it for yourself, buy it for others. A real 5* book.

Now, as always happens on Scribble City Central, Gillian has been kind enough to answer one of my famous and challenging

BURNING QUESTIONS
SCC: Where dead bodies are concerned, water plays an important part in both Bad Faith and The Opposite of Amber.  Why do you find the combination of running water and corpses such a fascinating and powerful image?" 

GP: Lucy, this is a googly! I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but now that you mention it...
Maybe it’s partly to do with where I live. I often say I get a lot of my ideas from landscape, and walking around in it, and if there’s one thing Scotland isn’t short of, it’s water. I always did love waterscapes, whether sea or river or loch. I spent huge amounts of my childhood sploshing around in it – lived for 15 years in Aberdeen, which has the most beautiful, vast and desolate beach, and the beach was the default place to go for laughs, games, romance, mooching over a lost love... I suppose that even in Crossing The Line, a crucial scene takes place in water (though not a death, for once!) when Nick goes midnight swimming with Orla – and yes, that was based on one of my own teenage habits...
It’s so fundamental, water, isn’t it? Life and death and this incredible irresistible power. Bits of Bad Faith were inspired by the Moray floods of a few years ago. We live at the top of a hill – lucky us – but the river Lossie is right at the bottom of it, and when the water starts to rise we can see and hear it. It’s spectacular and it’s terrifying. It seemed perfectly natural to put a body in that torrent – which can hide things, and quite unexpectedly reveal them...
But it can do the same when it’s calm and beautiful. Completely peaceful water can conceal things you wouldn’t want to see up close, which is what occurred to me when I was looking for a place to put a body in The Opposite of Amber. There’s a distillery pond I pass every morning on the school run, and it can be choppy and wild or it can be like a sheet of glass. One day I got out of the car for a closer look; the bank kind of slopes back beneath itself, and it struck me that anything could get caught under there...
All this notwithstanding, I must try to be more original! I was starting a new piece of work just yesterday, and I thought “must-not-soak-corpse...” Thanks for a fascinating question, Lucy!
SCC: Thanks for a fascinating answer--and I'm glad I bowled you a googly on this one.  Always good to make you consider something you'd never thought about!

3 comments:

catdownunder said...

Am looking forward to reading this particularly because it looks at the victims more than the perpetrators. I think it is much more difficult to do it this way around.

Stroppy Author said...

Lovely, thank you both of you. I am going to have to accelerate Opposite of Amber up my 'to read' pile. It creeps further up the pile with every review - can't wait to read it, Gillian.

Becky said...

How have I not read this yet?! It is on my pile of books. I didn't quite realise what it is about. To be honest, if Gillian wrote a shopping list, I'd read it.

 
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