There was a reason Charlie was such a bright blazing sun. He came from endless cold, black space.I couldn’t sleep after finishing Please Ignore Vera Dietz.I gave up on trying to untangle my emotional reaction from my critical thoughts, all hopelessly snarled together with lingering question marks, and just lay staring into the dark. The story refused to seep quietly into my consciousness, to be filed away neatly into a mental catalogue: good writing, interesting characters, believable dialogue etc, etc. Instead, it kept twisting around in my mind, scenes replaying and looping. Possible interpretations were bound up messily in my own personal experiences and beliefs. Vera, Charlie, Ken, Jenny – they were characters, but I realised that over the course of the book they had become real to me. And their stories wouldn’t let me sleep. How much of who we are is unconsciously pre-determined? I don’t mean this in a “destiny” or “fate” sense. Rather, how much of us is shaped by genetics, deeply hardwired into our blood and bones and minds? How much by the environment we live in everyday, the people who surround us? And how much by our beliefs – the things we hold to be so fundamentally true about ourselves that they become in effect self-fulfilling prophecies? Do we write our own futures by making the choice to accept certain assumptions or opinions of others, without questioning whether in fact they are true? I couldn’t stop wondering about Vera and Charlie’s friendship – and why it played out the way it did. As the story unfolds through a series of viewpoints, flashbacks, flowcharts and interludes from a talking pagoda, there is a growing sense of inevitability. Each part of the story, each event, each nail Charlie’s coffin, to be blunt, almost seems to be set in inexorable motion by the events immediately preceding, by the choices the characters make. And yet how much of this might have been different – if someone spoke up, if someone changed their mind, if someone decided not to believe the thing they’d been told all their lives? Would Vera and Charlie’s lives and relationship have taken a different path? Or was this outcome always bound to happen, by virtue of persistent human nature? At the end, I was overwhelmed with sadness for all of them. And yet I still felt a sincere appreciation for this story, a love for it because it was so honest and real. Because few books manage to convey how very possible it is to love someone and hate them all at the same time, for the people closest to us to inflict the worst kind of pain. Prose-wise, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is effortless to read. Thematically, it’s not. The voices, particularly Vera’s, are exceptionally genuine and I found myself connecting to her much more than I expected I would. While she is a mostly undemonstrative character, choosing to lay low and will attention away from her, the raw pain and conflict is palpable in her words. The sadness bleeds through, leaching from a well of betrayal, abandonment, misunderstanding and hurt. ”And so, for all six years she’s been gone, I have $337 to show for having a mother. Dad says that thirty-seven bucks is good interest. He doesn’t see the irony in that.” Needless to say, I really loved the writing in this book – it was poignant without pretention, emotive without being heavy.“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed. Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.” For a story that tackles death, abuse and alcoholism amongst other things, for the most part King takes a remarkably even-handed approach that feels open and not gratuitous. (There are some other messages around pet ownership in the novel where I felt perhaps King may have been speaking more to her personal opinion – and they came across rather more awkwardly.) I’m loathe to apply the term gritty here, because to be honest I think what King is showing us is simply reality (in terms of the issues it addresses, not the anthropomorphic landmarks, stripper dream sequences and pickles), and the reality is that life isn’t polished and smooth. That tragedy happens all the time. Often, right next door. From reading other reviews of Please Ignore Vera Dietz I had foreknowledge of some of the more unusual aspects of the story (narrators who shouldn’t physically be able to speak etc) so I didn’t find these elements distracting. If anything, I think I had mentally prepared myself for much more “quirk”, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I felt myself connecting to the story. I even came to view the speeches from the pagoda as something of a comforting, solid presence in the story amid the increasingly unsettled events and emotions surrounding it. Where I found Please Ignore Vera Dietz wanting was in its resolution. I was happy with where the story left most of the characters, but I felt it was a little unrealistic in its timing – what had been a festering wound seemed to heal a little too quickly to be totally believable. I definitely think that the characters would have reached this point eventually – but not with the apparent ease and swiftness with which the book seems to present the situation. Finally, I have to agree with one of my readalong partners-in-crime and say that there is a quite the aura of a cult classic around this book. The execution is slightly unusual, but the story strikes at the heart of intensely relatable and moving subject matter. This may sound contradictory, but this book broke my heart and I loved it. Thanks to my lovely readalong ladies, Shirley Marr, Lisa O and Maja!