i. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
ii. Dracula – Bram Stoker
1. Lolita– Vladimir Nabokov
2. Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay
3. Only Human – Gareth Roberts
4. Beautiful Chaos – Gary Russell
5. The Silent Stars – Dan Abnett
6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
7. Every Breath – Ellie Marney
8. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
9. Delirium – Lauren Oliver
10. Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
11. Requiem – Lauren Oliver
12. Venom– Fiona Paul
13. Belladonna – Fiona Paul
14. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
I read a lot. Obviously. Hell, I got about $130 all up in book vouchers from work as going away presents. Everyone knows I read a lot. But it’s usually possible for me to put down a book, walk away, and do other things. Even if it’s only for a bit. But not today. Today I started – and finished Every Breath. And now I have to wait until June for Every Word. Talk about cruel.
Crime fiction isn’t usually my thing. But Every Breath is so much more than a crime piece. It’s also about two mixed-up kids, Rachel Watts and James Mycroft, who managed to find each other in the huge metropolis of Melbourne, Australia. They support each other through their individual crises and, after about five months, they finally get together. These two are the perfect match for each other. And I don’t mean romantically. Watts grounds Mycroft and Mycroft helps Watts to realise how important she is for her; not just for what she can do for her family.
Trying to think of what to highlight and explain is actually making my heart constrict. Yeah, books can do that. There’s the scene where Watts finds Mycroft drunk and self-destructive on the anniversary of his parents’ deaths. It was her birthday, but she looks after her friend and cleans up his room even after he told her to “fuck off”. There’s the scene where Mycroft tells Watts that he was an involuntary patient at a mental hospital when he was fourteen. He pauses and tells her that no one else knows but her. Then there are the family scenes, the rescue scenes, jealousy, romantic tension that you can feel all the way to your toes, and the action scenes. This book has a little bit of everything.
Not to mention some of the best turns of phrase I have read since Neil Gaiman. For example, Marney describes a kiss like “sheet lightning”. Incredible. And so freakin’ evocative. Forget fire and burning, why haven’t other authors been describing kisses like lightning? Then there are smiles like sunsets, a woman who looks like a redback, and my personal favourite:
“By the time he’s sitting with me, he’s mint chocolate: grey-green face, eighty-per-cent-cocoa hair.”
How is that for describing nausea? So original. Incorporating Mycroft’s appearance into the description of vertigo-induced-nausea? Marney is a genius.
I’m going to make a shameful, shameful confession now: I don’t read that many Australian authors. Or for that matter, books set in Australia. There’s something about reading places that I know and have grown up with that lends a story a sense of…I don’t even know what. But I can’t seem to sink as far into the setting in an Aussie story as I do in a story set anywhere else. It’s one of my reader flaws, I suppose.
Marney, however, managed to make this irrelevant. I was walking the streets of Melbourne with Watts and Mycroft, seeing and smelling everything they did. Maybe because I have never been to Melbourne. Maybe because Marney is incredibly talented. My money’s on the latter.
Have you ever noticed in YA fiction that the tension between the primary male and female protagonists isn’t really believable? Once they get together, everything’s hot and steamy and your heart races during those raunchy passages. But anything before that is infuriating. The only exceptions off the top of my head are Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices. Especially Infernal Devices. Well, I’m adding another book to the list: Every Breath. I could literally – and yes, I actually do mean literally – feel the tension between Watts and Mycroft. I don’t know how Marney did it, but I definitely believed the attraction and the hesitation and the temptation. It was like being back in high school. In a good way, though. Not many authors capture the “before” in romance very well, but Marney nailed it.
I’m not sure if you’ve picked up on it yet, but Watts and Mycroft are loosely based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Watts is, of course, Watson, who we meet while she is patching up Mycroft after some kind of altercation. Mycroft isn’t Sherlock, though. He is Mycroft, the smarter, but oh-so-lazy, Holmes brother. And I loved it. Being a ginormous Sherlock fan, I got a kick out of every reference. Especially because the characters make fun of the “coincidence”. Watts and Mycroft are on a last name basis because they find the whole thing hilarious. Plus, Mycroft calls Watts his “Watson” on more than one occasion. Another plus? Mycroft is British.
Watts’ character was beautifully crafted. She offered to help Mycroft organise all of his Diogenes articles (his nome-de-plume for posting academia online. Ingenious that Diogenes was the club that Mycroft Holmes belonged to) into one handy website. So there is the chronicler aspect of Watson’s character. And then, at the very end of the story, Watts’ brother suggests that she studies medicine after high school. And there’s the highly decorated doctor. I just hope Watts doesn’t get sent to war.
The friends, Gus and Mai, also make fun of the similarities between their friends and the famous detectives and roll their eyes whenever Mycroft goes “Conan Doyle”. This direct approach to the Sherlock influence works magnificently. So much better than if Marney had just slipped in the references and alluded to Conan Doyle’s originals. It also means that the characters can deviate from the original canon because they have acknowledged Conan Doyle’s work and distanced themselves from it. Brilliant.
“Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”
It’s from “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Marney, you clever woman, that is one incredibly nice touch. Even more so than Mycroft suggesting that he, Watts, and their friends move into Baker St “in Richmond. Off Victoria Street.” I really hope they do it.
Now for one of the secondary characters: Mai Ng. I’m not sure if there was a friendly neighbourhood lawyer in the original Sherlock Holmes canon because I am only now acquainting myself with it, but I hope there was. Because if there wasn’t, Sherlock and Watson definitely could have used one. Mai, in all her mini-skirt and zombie t-shirt glory, gets Watts and Mycroft out of some sticky situations using her knowledge of Year 12 Legal Studies. If I ever need a lawyer, she will be my first call. I loved that the infamous duo needed that outside help. It was more realistic, seeing as Mycroft has only just started studying forensics at this point in his career.
There was only one stylistic choice that niggled at me throughout the book. This mightn’t bother anyone else, but it bothered me. I’ll try and sound as unpreachy as I can. To me, God should always be capitalised. Unless talking about the gods and goddesses of old. Now I don’t know if this was a commentary on the secular nature of our society or the secular nature of our narrator (Watts) or what, but the constant repetition of “god” instead of “God” rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not ridiculously religious or anything. The way I describe myself is agnostic with Catholic tendencies: I believe in God, but I hate the Church. So that could be why this bothered me. That or six years in a Catholic high school.
I really wish I hadn’t left this incredible book until the end of my list. I should have read it first. The beauty of hindsight, eh? I could go on and on, extolling the virtues of this book. Like how Watts used some British turns-of-phrase because of all the time she spends with Mycroft. Or how Marney used Watts’ and Mycroft’s youth to replicate the disdain the police had for the original Sherlock. But I won’t do that. Instead, just do yourself a favour and buy this book.
And as for you Americans out there: do me a favour and buy this book. And then rejoice in this pure Aussieness of it. Revel in the way we speak. Because this book would lose its authenticity if the publishers culled the Aussie phrases.