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Miles from Ordinary

Miles from Ordinary - Carol Lynch Williams A slight novel, weighing in at just under 200 pages, Miles from Ordinary is exactly what it says on the cover. Sparsely written, stripped back to the bones of Lacey’s narration, there’s not a wasted paragraph or scene here. Every line serves a purpose, contributing to the unsettling tone of the story, and the chilling way in which the plot plays out. Carol Lynch William’s execution of fourteen-year old Lacey’s voice is excellent, capturing all the anxiety, fear and longing that she experiences during the course of the day the novel covers. At times these shades of emotion blend as Lacey’s desire to protect and yet also be protected come into conflict, and she struggles to reconcile her feelings towards her mentally ill mother. Shackled by her mother’s personal ghosts, Lacey leads an isolated life. She daydreams about making a friend. Anticipates starting a new job at the library. Tries to take a step toward an ordinary life for herself and her mother. Yet there’s always a note of unease, and the atmosphere of the story begins to shift from hopeful to almost frightening. The picture of Lacey’s life that emerges through her memories and the events as she relates them is deeply disquieting. While the latter part of the book takes a turn for the suspenseful and rather creepy, it’s Lacey’s mental and emotional response to her mother’s illness that struck me the most. What this book does for awareness and understanding of mental illness, I’m not sure - but the portrayal of a teenage girl attempting to process her conflicted feelings about it felt authentic and moving. There was something very powerful about the emotions this book evoked, watching Lacey begin to grasp the full extent of her mother’s instability.That said, I can’t help but feel slightly uneasy about the way mental illness is treated in the book. Using it as a device for suspense and even horror feels somewhat unjust, to me, and I was never really comfortable with it once the book kicked into thriller mode. While it certainly packs emotional impact, and brings home exactly how difficult Lacey’s situation is, part of me felt as if the illness had been cast in a role of the villain, which I can’t help but see as harmful. There’s a note of hope in the conclusion of the story, however, I’m unsure whether this is very effective in bringing more balance and depth to the treatment of mental illness here. Miles From Ordinary is an unusual, striking book. It’s beautifully written, and the characterisation of Lacey is exceptional. Heavily atmospheric and haunting, it’s an undeniably compelling read. Cover note: While I’m not usually a fan of the large, cropped face effect – in this case it has won me over. I find something about the colour scheme and the expression really beautiful, and fitting for the tone of the book. This review also appears at The Midnight Garden