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Deep Down: the 'intimate, emotional and witty' 2023 debut you don't want to miss

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Billie and her mother, Lisa, steadfastly refer to their father’s “illness”; it is left to Tom to voice the unsayable: “Maybe the only thing that was actually wrong with him was that he was a bad person.

She was shortlisted for the Portobello Prize 2017 and shortlisted for the FT/Bodley Head Essay Prize 2018. Billie and Tom are not necessarily likeable characters, but as the story progresses with flashbacks to their childhood we start to understand why they’re a bit messed up and have such a tense relationship - they’ve both processed their father’s behaviour in a different way and are therefore handling his loss differently too. There are scenes of ‘goo spattered all over the floor’, interrupted by a policeman ‘wearing a chunky black vest thing’, and dramatic arguments where the most tragic result is a lack of ice creams ‘in the shape of Sonic the Hedgehog’. Such crispness could have given the narrative a slightly sneering edge, but West-Knights’ quiet focus on the vulnerability of her lead characters grounds the novel in a more humane place.

Billie, who has a ‘plain, mashed potato sort of face’, lives in London, while Tom (a failed actor, whose only success was in a Christmas advert) has moved to Paris to work in a bar. I agree with one reviewer who said that the author is a 'human story- teller' but disagree that she is 'hilarious' as I didn't find much humour in the book. West-Knights takes the tradition of the British family novel - with all its resentment, over-drinking and passive aggression - and transcends it: Deep Down is funny, sad, tender and hopeful. Secondly, I think that the story could have used additional layers on top of the grief and resentment they were experiencing in the present day.

Attention is directed to the complicated tenderness and shared history between them, existing regardless of an intractable awkwardness. Imogen West Knights reveals family silence and repression in a way which feels almost agonisingly true to life. Funny, moving and unexpected, Deep Down is an empathetic and hard-hitting look at both the struggles and the joys of sibling relationships, and the realities of grieving the loss of someone who was already an absence. But not many can emotionally sucker punch you with one sentence and have you in tears of laughter the next. The characters are relatively interesting and seeing how their perspectives on their alcoholic father’s life diverge towards the end of the text provided good character development for both.A sensitive look at grief, families, ambition, anger and the complexity of loving and hating someone all at once. Twentysomething siblings Billie and Tom are thrown together in Paris in the immediate aftermath of their father’s sudden death. The only thing I would say (and it may well have been updated in the finished copies), was that it would’ve been helpful to have time frames detailed as it did jump around and you kind of had to guess when a flashback was etc.

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