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Review: Skarrs by Catherine Forde

skarrs catherine forde Review: Skarrs by Catherine Forde

British author Catherine Forde has put together a stark and uncomfortable novel with Skarrs, but it's a narrative that drags you in, and youll find yourself abjectly fascinated by its painful catalogue of characters and their stilted interactions.

Danny has his hair shorn down to a number one on the day of Grampa Dan's funeral, an act that hints at the troubled mind that we are to become horribly familiar with throughout the book. Grampa Dan was a war veteran, having been captured and held as a POW in Japan, and it's difficult not to link the then and the now. In fact, this is exactly what Forde sets out to do. The narrative follows Danny's delinquent behaviour, tracing the poisonous events and relationships that gradually lead to his downfall, and contrasts it with a recorded narrative of Grampa Dan's experiences at the hands of the Japanese. Both narratives coil around each other, spiralling ever downwards into despair and desolation, with Grampa Dan's dark points contrasted with those of Danny. It is an interesting juxtaposition: Grampa Dan's small efforts of rebellion, such as keeping a visual record of his suffering, contrasts significantly with Danny's own self-destructive rebellion, and highlights the fact that, unlike Grampa Dan, he has a degree of agency, but is unwilling to take any responsibility for his actions, instead allowing himself to become swept up in a maelstrom of horrors at the insistence of his friend Jakey.

Danny has fallen in with, to use a cliche, a bad crowd since moving schools. His once strong friendship with Richard has dwindled over the years, and has suffered even more with vehement and jealous Jakey on the scene. As it turns out, Richard is one of the few remaining links that Danny has with Grampa Dan, whose absence becomes more real to him as he struggles to deal with the desperate and dangerous circumstances in which he finds himself. Danny relies on his art, a skill inherited from his grandfather, and his obsession with white-power band Skarrs to deal with the difficulties facing him. Forde positions the two as the conflicting light-and-dark elements in his life, and as Danny's self-awareness grows, and with it his sense of empathy and compassion, he turns away from one and towards the other.

Danny and Grampa Dan's stories are intertwined throughout the book, with both reaching a dark point together. However, while'Skarrs is gritty and at times painful, it is not a novel of hopelessness, and when Grampa Dan's time in Japan finally comes to an end, we know that Danny, too, is heading towards some degree of salvation.

Skarrs is an idiosyncratic book, and there are elements with which some readers might struggle, such as the heavily vernacular voice used for Danny. In addition, there are some plot points that are too neat and 'just in the nick of time' that detract from the otherwise harsh reality of the novel; likewise, the character development sometimes feels a little forced, being shoehorned in to make a certain point at an appropriate time. It reminds me somewhat of Anne Provoost's'Falling, a novel dealing with fascism in Belgium, in terms of its thematic approach and its characters; both employ main characters who are frustratingly easily led by charismatic individuals, but fight to redeem themselves. Overall'Skarrs is a moving and thoughtful book, and most readers, teens and adults alike, will likely take something from it.

200px 3.5 stars.svg  Review: Skarrs by Catherine Forde

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Other books by Catherine Forde you might like: Fat Boy Swim, The Drowning Pond, Exit Oz

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