(Linen Press, 2012); pbk, £9.99
Nothing is Heavy, Vicki Jarrett’s debut novel, is a blackly comic and compelling read. Jarrett is better known for her shorter fiction, some of which has been featured on BBC Radio 4. Shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2011, Nothing is Heavy is a confident and exciting work which confirms Jarrett’s skill as a writer.
The novel focuses on the lives of three strangers and the way in which they are brought together by the random events of one single night. The focus in each chapter rotates between the three main characters (Amber, Beth and George), telling us the story from their different perspectives. In this way, the novel is kept exciting, as the reader has to piece together the whole story from the experiences of the individual characters.
Although the novel focuses on the events of one particular night, Jarrett weaves in numerous secondary plotlines which enrich the overall story. For example, Beth, a lonely and withdrawn chip-shop-worker, harbours a great deal of depression and sorrow; slowly, we learn about Beth’s complete isolation, her penchant for drinking herself into oblivion and the ghosts from her past . Although we feel sympathy for Beth, Jarrett does not allow us to become overwhelmed by her misery. Balancing this very serious and damaged character against the excessive and vivacious character of Amber, Jarrett succeeds in creating a double act which challenges conventions and stereotypes that we sometimes take for granted.
Amber, a stripper, is introduced during a tryst with her boss. At first glance she appears not to care at all about her life, but we soon learn that her attitude has been carefully crafted to cover years of pain and abuse. She comes into Beth’s life with all the subtlety of a whirlwind, dragging Beth kicking and screaming into the middle of a drugs bust, a potential murder, and a police chase. Throughout the book, Jarrett develops Amber’s character through flashbacks into a past that is not all that it appears to be, again causing us to reconsider the persona we thought we knew.
In much the same way, we are shown the circumstances that led George, a lonely and depressed middle aged man to the events of this particular night, and are privy to the exceptional choices he makes in a spur-of-the-moment decision to attempt to regain control in his life. His accidental involvement in a car chase results in the awakening of a man who has allowed life to simply ‘happen’ for too long.
Jarrett develops these characters with a flair that forces us to consider them as real people. She challenges our preconceptions, asking questions of the choices her characters take and the destination they reach. Although the most obvious feature of this novel is its humour, Jarrett also succeeds in reflecting upon not only the inevitability of life but also our ability to take charge of our own destiny. Nothing is Heavy might appear to be a light read, but it resonates with the reader long after they have completed the novel. These characters will continue to be a source of inspiration, and it is for this reason that I believe Nothing is Heavy should be a regular feature on the bookshelves of my peers.