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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson

Infinite Sky

Infinite Sky - C.J. Flood "And all the time the same question flails around my head, like a hawkmoth round a light-bulb: Is it possible to keep loving somebody when they kill someone you love?”C.J. Flood’s debut, Infinite Sky, is a novel that is at once both understated and emotionally devastating; a story that unfolds gradually with a quietness that belies the impending tragedy.The prologue hangs like a shadow over the following pages of the novel. It is made clear from the start that this is a story marked by death, but by withholding the identity of the character to die, Flood maintains a sense of compelling disquiet. We know grief awaits us, yet we don’t know for whom, or why. It’s an approach that works for this book, allowing the plot to progress at an unhurried pace without sacrificing any of the tension required to keep the story engaging.This is a coming-of-age story, but Flood’s approach to Iris’ development is refreshingly frank and unsentimental. At thirteen, Iris is attempting to adjust to a life in which her mother has left the family, her father is drinking and distant, and her brother Sam is becoming increasingly altered and withdrawn. Flood is subtle in her depiction of each character’s response to their changed circumstances: she shows it in the neglect of their home, in Sam’s muted anger, in Iris’ habit of wearing of her Mother’s abandoned clothes.In addition, and partly in response to her mother’s departure, Iris is feeling increasingly alienated from her friend, Matty. Bristling under the well-intentioned, if heavy-handed, pity of Matty and her mother, Iris becomes more aware of the nuances of their friendship, the shifting dynamic between them. Though secondary to the central plot, Flood also writes these elements of the story with insight and skill.It’s against this backdrop of emotional upheaval that a family of Irish Travellers set up camp on the Dancy’s land, and Iris finds an unexpected friend in fourteen-year-old Trick. After some initial wary observation, Iris and Trick’s interactions develop from tentative sympathy to something deeper: a closeness that’s both friendship and first love intertwined. Yet Flood never allows this relationship to become overly romanticised or unrealistic, nor does she trivialise it. With an excellent grasp of her characters’ experiences and ages, Flood writes their bond with restraint, allowing Iris’ self-consciousness and Trick’s cognizance of local prejudice to shade their growing closeness.Flood’s handling of the issue of discrimination and racism is particularly adroit, conveying the complexities of the conflict honestly, and without judgement. Her depiction of the local attitudes towards Travellers is unflinchingly candid; she doesn’t shy away from the slurs and assumptions that accompany the arrival of Trick and his family, nor does she paint an idealised picture of them. Rather, Flood presents the various sides of the issue with impartiality, striving instead to accurately present a situation where the many shades of grey prevent black and white judgement, or definitive allocation of blame.When the various conflicts – both internal and external – reach the inevitable climax, Flood has created a situation that is intensely distressing. But there are no easy villains here. Each of the characters shares some culpability in the outcome, yet this isn’t a story that is trying to moralise to readers. Rather there is something heartbreaking about the very believability of this story, that these kind of actions and attitudes are both realistic and common.Yet it’s Iris’ opening question in the prologue that lingers, and I appreciated Flood’s choice to tackle the complexities of grief and guilt when the situation is far from clear-cut. The novel asks us to consider difficult questions - and while it doesn’t necessarily provide the answers - its strength lies in acknowledging that these questions exist. That in life, and love, and death, sometimes there are no easy answers.