I have to applaud Stuart Aken for a memorable story that inhabits your mind long after you’ve clicked that last page.
It starts with a ‘broken’ Faith, a young woman abominably treated by her bully of a father, a puritanical hypocrite. When she eventually manages to flee from her hell, she is taken in by a successful photographer, Leigh, who is loved, adored and revered by women. The idolatry he receives from thousands of women is reciprocated with sex; lots and lots and lots of it, shamelessly and flagrantly.
Faith’s upbringing has, remarkably and against all odds, produced an innocent, direct, honest and extraordinarily beautiful woman – inside and out - and Leigh is smitten in a way he never imagined possible. They are irresistibly drawn to each other, but Faith has ultimata and the road to their nirvana is eventful, sad, tragic, and inevitable.
I did enjoy the book but…there are some ‘buts’.
What did I enjoy? It is very well written, it’s compelling and it’s intelligent. The story was written in the first person from both Leigh’s and Faith’s POV in alternating chapters. I was intrigued by this, and it worked well. It’s a good story with some very likeable characters, some of them funny, and some not so likeable; Leigh, in particular, is someone you love to hate. He’s handsome, he’s kind, he’s generous – totally immoral – but charismatic. The setting of the novel is in the beautiful Yorkshire dales and the locals’ dialect and character add authentic flavour.
My ‘buts’? Despite the 1976 setting, I felt uneasy with the promiscuity and the acceptability of it. Faith’s character developed rather quickly – for 20 years she was isolated with nothing but a bible, an atlas, a history of the world, and a censored encyclopaedia and dictionary for company – she was disproportionately worldly. There was an uncharacteristic neglect of her quadriplegic sister, for whom she had cared tenderly for many years, after she was taken into social care in very distressing circumstances. Unfortunately, I have to say, too, that there were many editorial oversights (missing, misplaced, incorrect punctuation and spelling errors) which jarred just a little.
However, the story and Faith stay with you. I am glad I read it and would recommend it.