If Tracey Crisp's novel, Black Dust Dancing, is characterised by the pauses and little actions of everyday life, then Kate De Goldi's novel, The 10pm Question, is all about the slow reveal. So much so, that to tell you about some of the key points of the novel is to spoil the process of revelation. So I shall be careful about what I say here: I will reveal some, but only the necessary, and leave some for you to read for yourself. Because you ought to read this novel.
The 10pm Question is seen through the eyes of Frankie, a 12 year old boy. His life seems normal, just the everyday activities of a boy and his family, even if overlaid by his anxiety. He has responsibilities, and he worries. Constantly. Mostly, he worries about his mother.
This is the point at which you should stop reading if you plan to read this book for yourself. At this point, I'm going to give a reveal. It doesn't ruin the plot, but I can't write about this book without revealing why Frankie worries about his mother.
Frankie's Mum has a mental illness. It constrains her life, and affects every member of the family, in different ways. Not in frightening ways. But in ways that push Frankie and his sister and his brother, and Uncle George.
This is where Kate De Goldi writes about mental illness so well. As I read the novel, it took me some time to realise that Frankie's mum, Francie, has a mental illness. Bit by bit I realised that something was not quite usual with Frankie's world. I realised that his mum was not a standard mum, and then I realised that she had a mental illness, and only after quite some time did I work out the exact nature of her illness. It was like real life, when we first assume that someone we have just met is a standard issue person, and then we realise that something is a bit unusual, and then that the person may have a mental health problem, and then, possibly, work out a little about the nature of a problem. In real life, a person's mental illness is often a slow reveal, to themselves, and to the people around them. Kate De Goldi has mirrored this slow reveal in the way she has written this novel.
De Goldi doesn't shy away from the difficulties of mental illness, for the person who has it, and for the people around her or him. When Frankie finally flies to his great aunts (three women of large size and large personality), the eldest aunt doesn't try to smooth over the problems, to pretend that they don't exist.
"Oh Frankie," she sighed. "Isn't it hard?"
That's one of the things I like about this book. It doesn't try to pretend that illness is easy, that everyone can just take the pills and be happy. Kate de Goldi's characters cope, but there are costs for each of them too. Above all, there are costs for Francie. She has found a way of living, a way of managing, a way of being... content, even if not happy per se. But there are costs. Fancie is no super-crip. She's just an ordinary woman, who copes as best she can with the way her life has turned out.
I also like Frankie's perspective. He seems to me to be a thorough-going twelve year old, full of plans and rituals and speculations. It was fun to see the world through a twelve-year-old's eyes, to see things that he didn't, and realise that he saw things that I simply could not perceive.
You should read this book. It's entertaining, but it's also thought-provoking. And it is instructive. Not in the sense of being didactic, or moralistic, at all. But in the sense of revealing aspects of the way that human beings can be, with sympathy, and without judgement.
My daughter, Ms Twelve, read this book too, and loved it. It's well within the reach of a perceptive twelve year old, 'though I suspect that she will find more in it if she reads it again when she is older.