Opening a new book is always interesting – it’s often with a sense of trepidation that I begin, effectively opening up my mind and imagination to anything that someone decides to write. A good story can get in your head but some stories can stay there forever, and that’s not always a good thing!
I should note that on first reading the story I had no idea about the author – Alice Broadway; her ideals, motives for writing and life journey. Like many readers I would imagine. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to write a novel without drawing on one’s own life experiences to some level, however I think it is potentially easier to read a story in an un-biased manner without former knowledge of the author and their personality and ideals. When reading fiction I often find myself analysing to what extent the author is using the story to speak to me, rather than purely writing ideas, thoughts and opinions that the characters might hold (which may be at odds with the author’s own thoughts).
Introducing the story
Ink is a story about a culture that tattoo all their key moments (both good and bad) on their skin, and at the end of their lives they are judged by their skin as to whether they led a good life. It follows Leora Flint, in the first person, in the months following her father’s death, as she finishes school, struggles with her place in life and discovers much more about herself and the people around her than she bargained for.
I’m not going to reveal much of the story for those who haven’t read it. I felt it was well written, if simply. Originally I wasn’t sure who the intended audience was, as I had spontaneously bought the book on a recommendation. (I tend to prefer reading reviews after reading the book, just in case it spoils my first impressions, and then later (occasionally) to vindicate any thoughts I might have had about it).
Plot pacing and writing style
Ink isn’t a long book, and there are a few ‘reveals’ that are spaced throughout, but I would say it takes quite a while to take off. However, I’m quite a patient reader. I don’t need a thrill at every turn. The steady progression of the story was helpful, especially to get hold of the context of the plot. However I felt that whilst a bit of context was good, the simplicity of the writing (presumably for the intended audience) meant that I was somewhat unsatisfied until the plot built up. Had there been more detail painted into the wider story I think I would have been happier to accept the pacing.
Another element of the simplicity in the writing style that I think does work is Leora’s character; she is young and a little carefree, if not worn down by her father’s death. This makes sense, though some of her moments of surprising insight and boldness felt a little bit too convenient and rapid, and were perhaps being used to help move the plot along?
Regarding the plot, the central character, Leora, has a sense of self-importance that is probably quite common in young people (I know I felt it as a teenager particularly) but which, unfortunately, turns out to be validated by the circumstances! Whilst the ‘fairytales’ which she reads appear to grow in truth and relevance, the tale itself felt as though it developed into more and more of a fantasy as Leora’s role became increasingly central, not just to her own story, but seemingly to that of many others.
Who is the novel for?
To me it feels a little as though the author has contrived this to deal with issues that many of her younger readers may be battling with; questions of identity and self-worth. However, this seems to move the book into the type of young adult fiction in which the protagonist becomes far more important to the plot than is realistic. We may sometimes wish to be the hero, with a destiny and story that affects many, and to feel that everything in history has led up to where we are. However this just feels far too self-important and, dare I say, old-fashioned and fairy-tale like, which is at odds with what otherwise is quite a fresh and interesting novel.
The beauty of the first person narrative is that the author can drive our conclusions to some extent, but there were a couple of jarring moments. For example, at the point of the novel’s climax Leora makes a huge decision which I felt seemed to come from nowhere. Nevertheless the general tension and confusion that comes from seeing the world from one perspective does play out well.
There are a couple of fairly subtle references that, for me, affirm the idea that the universe Leora lives in is our own, or a similar one. Namely the references to ‘Old fables’, such as that of the three men thrown in a furnace who are joined by another, mysterious person: this is a story from Daniel in the Bible. I’ll be interested to see whether this thread is pursued in the sequel, which I believe is well underway.
Upon completing Ink, I had initially assumed that the author was a Christian (though much of the story is anti-dogma and certainly shows an attitude of fear towards ‘the authorities’ who are painted as sinister and oppressive). After reading up further I now understand the author’s loss of faith has played a pivotal role in the direction of the story, so she is influenced by her upbringing (which is clear), but her disaffection to Christianity and her interest in alternative beliefs on morality, life and death have played out here.
This may seem like quite a critical review, but I assure you, I enjoyed the book! I thought the premise was great, and the end result was satisfying enough.
If you fancy reading ‘ink’, click the book cover above to go to Amazon; this is an affiliate link, which will help me to justify spending more time writing on this site to my wife! In no way is my review affected by the choice to add this link.