Down the Wormhole by Ana Franco, French Press Bookworks, £1.31 ebook, http://frenchpressbookworks.com/
Reviewed by Rebecca Lloyd
These days it seems to be true that anyone can write a novel and have it published and in this era of self-publishing and of the new outcrop of vanity publishers that have emerged, you can expect to encounter books with typos, grammatical errors and on occasion hard to understand sentences. In that respect, this book doesn’t disappoint.
However, it would be easy as a reviewer of a book that came from this unfortunate part of the industry, to write about it in an unkind way just for the sake of it. Part of the role of reviewer is to give a fair unbiased critique of a book that does not avoid the less good parts, and yet attempts to seek out and write about the better elements if they are there – the purpose of a review being to enable readers to decide if they want to invest in the book.
I realised on the first page of ‘Down the Wormhole’ that English is not the first language of the writer. The awkwardness of some of the sentences makes reading it a bit of a chore, but as it goes on, it does become easier, and I think the writing perhaps even flows better further in. The publisher of ‘Down the Wormhole’ is a young person who has endeavoured to set up a publishing house [French Press Bookworks] and the book is written for young readers by Ana Franco, another young person, who has worked as editor in the same company. Writing for young people is a difficult thing to do well and takes a deal of experience as a writer to pull it off. This novel does have enthusiasm however, and a certain quality of energy, which perhaps in later novels – if the writer persists – will be a charming element.
While the age group it is intended for might enjoy some of the dialogue exchanges in Down the Wormhole, there is no visible story line in at least the first three chapters and no text separating the long blocks of dialogue. Part of the problem with the novel is that there are too many characters with equal weight to be able to give any of them any substance. There is a main character, Kitty – one of the few humans in the story, [the others are gods or mythological characters] – but she is as under developed as the rest of them. So while there are many different characters, and some of them enthusiastically written about, the reader is left on the outside of the story looking in, and unable to make much sense of what is going on. Medusa, Aphrodite, Gin, Anubis, Eris, Set and Sif are all figures in this novel. This bewildering array of comic book-like characters leaves the reader stranded and unable to empathise with any of them, including the main character. This difficulty might to some extent have been alleviated had there been any graciousness in the exchanges between them, but the god characters act like narcissistic teenagers, [which they are posing as], and the way they treat each other is unpleasant and often sarcastic, as you might indeed find in comics or cartoons dealing with good and evil. While I was struck by how unnatural the dialogue was, I did wonder if it was a novel laced through with irony, but came to no conclusion.
I am moved by the effort of this young writer, and hope that she will continue to write novels, and through that very process, learn about the craft of writing in all its deep complexities. It is certainly true that if you continue to write fiction, you eventually have every chance of getting good at it – if you are committed enough. I would wish also that she had the guidance of a good substantive editor in her future work.