Set in a nightmarish version of Leeds where it is always winter, this is the tale of Camelia, a young woman whose life stopped when her father died.
Her mother has retreated into silence, and instead of Camelia continuing with her Chinese studies she is now trapped with a silent, grieving parent who should really be looking after her instead. Surviving only on the pay cheques of her boring and reclusive job as a translator of washing machine manuals, she yoyos in mood dramatically. One minute she is telling you how much she hates Leeds and pulling flowers to pieces, berating them for growing and offering hope; the next moment she is trying to reach out and tentatively start her life again.
Pulling no punches at all, this book captures the rawness of grief and the way it bleeds across a life in precise, violent, calligraphic strokes. It is tender only in the honesty with which it shares Camelia’s voice – melodramatic and sullen by turns; fragile and full of rage. What looks like authorial excess and flashiness at the start of the book is actually pretty authentic for Camelia’s desperate attempts to hang on to both her misery and the reader’s attention.
Shortlisted for the Strega and winner of the 2011 Campiello First Novel prize, this is a scarily impressive debut. Di Grado has an amazing talent for detail and imagery that makes this one of the most astonishing and vivid books I’ve read this year, if not the most comfortable.