The novel is about a young woman, Szandi, who is raised by her father in a vineyard in Hungary after her mother abandons her. Szandi is an articulate, EMO-teen, who uses the internet, music and art to explore her feelings and find a support network that she cannot find in her loving but emotionally distant father. In this way she perhaps embodies a generation of youth who have found solace and support online rather than at home.
She witnesses a tragic event during the 2006 riots in Bucharest and spends the rest of the novel trying to understand and express her feelings – to her father, her long lost mother, a mysterious stranger called Peter and eventually an equally mysterious art teacher, Yang.
There is plenty in this book to intrigue us and draw us in to her search – Mr Holloway is careful to introduce mysteries to keep us hooked. What happened to Szandi’s mother and how will they get on when they are reunited? Who is sending her excerpts ripped from her deceased love’s diaries?
These practical conundrums prevent the novel being just about how this particular teenager is feeling. Indeed the novel is most effective when there is just such dramatic tension. Other parts of the book feel overwritten – like “the finest hairs on my skin were so sensitive to the breath of the air that I needed the layer of fabric to act as a damper between them and the night” which I think means “I was cold”.
It is to Mr Holloway’s credit and testament to his versatility that he successfully narrates in various ways to progress and enrich the story – through diary entries, the use of present and past tenses, telephone conversations and the internet (I was, however, a little suspicious of the extremely well-written, grammatically impeccable blog entries...).
I did find the time structure of the novel a little bit confusing – the flashbacks, the flashbacks within flashbacks and so on - and the incessantly confessional tone of the piece can be wearing. There is plenty of weeping to be done in its pages; indeed this sometimes seems the default way of ending a scene or dramatic moment.
It is a testament to Mr Holloway’s skill as a writer of drama that he keeps us intrigued in the novel’s progress rather than put off by the maundering angst sometimes on display.