> Ajay Close – What Doesn't Kill Us (book review) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Ajay Close – What Doesn’t Kill Us (book review)

It’s always a pleasure to be able to recommend the books of Ajay Close. Since reading her debut novel, Forspoken, in 1998, there are few writers whose work I look forward to reading more. While you can never second-guess what she will be writing about, the novels often reflect upon relationships between women and men and the sociopolitical pressures and constructs behind them. These include What We Did in the Dark, about Scottish writer Catherine Carswell, and A Petrol Scented Spring, which looks at the women’s suffrage movement, among others.

Her latest novel, What Doesn’t Kill Us, continues this examination. Set in Yorkshire as the 1970s become the 80s, and greatly influenced by the real-life Yorkshire Ripper investigations, Close transports us to the time and place beautifully, evoking all the sights, sounds, smells, and attitudes of Britain – and that part of Britain in particular – touching not only on prevalent sexism, but also class, race, and sexuality.

It can be read in part as a police procedural thriller, with widespread fear and suspicion on the streets as the notorious ‘Butcher’ continues to threaten women and the police fail to find him, but this is set against a wider backdrop of misogyny which was not only institutional but endemic, with the threat of violence an everyday occurrence.

The story is mostly split between the narratives of police constable Liz Seeley and the charismatic artist Charmaine. Each is struggling with who they are and where they belong, and it is their unlikely friendship that allows readers access to the wider situation, as their other relationships, often with people from very different layers of society, fill in further pieces of the picture. But it is the depiction of the social mores of the time that makes this essential reading.

Ajay Close is too good a writer to offer easy answers or neat conclusions. What Doesn’t Kill Us is an even-handed and in-depth examination of the growth of the Women’s Liberation movement and the reasons it was necessary, and while it never shies away from the dark and desperate times, her journalist’s desire to see all sides of the story is always in evidence, balancing theory and ideology with real life.

What Doesn’t Kill Us is published by Saraband Books

You can read our interview with Ajay Close, talking about What Doesn’t Kill Us, in the January issue of SNACK

You May Also Like

SNACK Bits January 2024 (Scotland’s Best New Music)

January is often a month associated with cutting back, sometimes through choice, at other ...

Review: Jodie Nicholson – Second Sun (live at The Old Church Studio)

Rising Hurworth-on-Tees soloist, Jodie Nicholson’s heartfelt, acoustic rendition of her folky hit ‘Second Sun’, ...

Interview: Imogen Stirling –Paisley Book Festival 2021

Imogen Stirling is Paisley Book Festival’s inaugural writer-in-residence, as the festival goes digital for ...