It's been a while since I found a book totally unputdownable, but Ray Robinson's Electricity has kept me spell bound for the last couple of days, and I'm so sad I've finished it.
I loved its feisty protagonist, Lily, who suffers from epilepsy (so bad she's sometimes throwing several fits a day and constantly in danger from injury) but never allows the disability to define her.
Physically abused as a child by her mother (the epilepsy began after she was thrown down stairs) and sexually abused by her mother's lover, Lily is shunted into a care home as an adolescent, while her brothers are sent to Borstal after a fracas with the police. She takes a job in an amusement arcade in a small seaside town and doesn't see her family again until the police come to inform her that her mother is seriously ill in hospital.
Her mother's death brings Lily's brother, Barry, a big-time gambler player back into her life, but her other brother Mikey, her great childhood protector is still missing, and she knows that she must find him. With the money she inherits from the sale of her mother's house she makes the journey to London to try to track him down. It's a particularly brave venture considering the fact that she could collapse and have a fit at any moment.
I felt myself really cheering Lily on - not just in her search for her brother but in negotiating the new relationships in her life, with Mel the city high-flier who rescues her after a fit leaves her collapsed in the middle of a busy road, and Dave, a hunky electrician who turns out not to be all he seems.
One of the remarkable achievements of the book is that we're right inside Lily's head experiencing the often terrifying disorientating effects of the disorder with her. I learned a great deal. And it always pleasantly surprises when a bloke gets a woman's voice so well down to the page.
Would I recommend it? Yes, very strongly. It reminded me in some ways of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.
The novel is shortlisted for this year's James Tait Black Award. I haven't seen it piled high in the bookshops here but I found my copy at Kinokuniya and I'm sure the others can order it. (I also put it on the order list for British Council library some time back so you should be able to find it there.)
And of course the author is Dina's friend from her Lancaster days. (Which is why I picked the book up, in the first place!)
You can read an interview with Ray on the Pan Macmillan website in which he has a lot of very interesting stuff to say about his writing process, and read an extract here.
Catherine Taylor reviews the novel in the Guardian.