Attend by West Camel – Deptford, Deborah, Reality and Fantasy

A novel of harsh reality, complex relationships and a hint of fantasy, “Attend” is a novel which draws the reader in, messes with her mind, then leaves a shock. It is the story of people with a past, sometimes difficult, sometimes tragic, and the vulnerable present that they find themselves in as they look around Deptford. This is a contemporary book, but the persistent fantasy is of someone who can look back for over a century, and does so in acts of compulsive storytelling. As characters are forced to examine themselves and what is truly going on around them they discover not only their weaknesses but also their strengths, even if that discovery comes at a high cost. It is a faithful insight into the drab loneliness of solo lives, lived on the edge of others’ preoccupations. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience this unusual book as it is first published.

Anne has returned to a place she knows well, perhaps too well, as she is confronted with a family she has in some senses abandoned, amidst the buildings, pathways and places she can remember with painful clarity. It is when she is at her lowest, when the memories crowd in, that she is first confronted by the mysterious character of Deborah. Without beginning or end, she conjures up a world of mystery, remembered things, and endless sewing.

Sam is a troubled young man of secrets and deceptions, as he tries to continue a world of encounters with men that leave him dissatisfied. He too lives in a drab world, challenged by the actions of others, all too aware of the dangers inherent in his lifestyle. He too meets Deborah, as he alternates saving her and being saved by her, drawn in by her fantastic stories and yet beyond puzzled the unlikely tales, he develops in courage and begins to discover what is important.

The characters in this book are satisfactorily multi dimensional, as even a small baby is given a role as a challenge for Anne. Dark comedy and soap opera type emotion is combined with a literary style that lifts this book away from romantic drama, especially in those moments concerning the elusive Deborah. The subject matter, of drug use, twisted friendship and danger makes this a powerful novel, yet the presence of Deborah somehow gives it an ethereal element. Not that she always has a positive story to tell, as she recalls wartime London. As even buildings and roads seem to move with her words, Anne and Sam have to discover how to survive and live in the world.

This is an impressive novel, confidently written with an eye to the visual as well as the emotional experience of the characters. A strongly written book, with powerful events and challenging conflicts, this is memorable and compelling reading. The confusing details of a mysterious life are put up against the reality of everyday life with the small touches of clothes, daily routine, as even the inaccessibility of Deborah’s home becomes familiar. This is a book which poses many questions, but is also a compelling narrative. An impressive and challenging debut, Camel’s characterisation is well developed and mature throughout this memorable book.

I have spent much of the last 24 hours writing and sorting out Christmas cards. We have moved so often (ten times!) that we send cards to people in several places, and so we had to find not only a Post Office to dispatch (late running ) cards abroad, but also to buy an eye watering number of second class stamps. After some Christmas shopping in a selection of very individual shops at Cromford Mill, Derbyshire, we tried to post the cards (having put the stamps on in a cafe!) only to discover a shortage of post boxes with adjacent parking. Tomorrow we must put our artificial tree up with help, as well as sing in a concert. Such fun!