When 11-year-old Indigo and her older brother Robin arrive in South Africa to stay with their father, they find a luxury lifestyle that is a world away from their modest existence back in England. But Indigo is uneasy in the foreign landscape and confused by the family's silence surrounding her mother's recent death. Unable to find solace in either new or old faces, she begins to harbour violent suspicions in place of the truth. Steeped in the dry heat of a South African summer, this keen and touching debut seamlessly interweaves the voices of Indigo and her mother, and beautifully captures the human desire to belong: in a family, in a country, in your own skin.
Alarm Girl is Hannah Vincent's debut novel and was published by Myriad Editions on 7 August 2014.
There are stories that are fast-paced, exciting and thrilling. There are stories that are subtle, descriptive and beautiful. There is a place for both of these, but sometimes the slower, more complex and deliciously paced story is the order of the day. Alarm Girl is exactly that; a story narrated by a child who will slowly but surely creep into your head and she's very difficult to shake off.
Indigo and her brother Robin have travelled to South Africa. They are going to stay with their father who is trying to establish a travel business. Their mother has recently died and they've been staying with their maternal grandparents. Nobody has spoken to Indigo about her mother's death. Her brother thinks she's just a stupid girl, her grandparents are overly-protective and grieving themselves and her father seems to have changed into a different person completely.
Indigo finds South Africa quite strange and just a little frightening. The heat, the wild animals, the language. It feels unsafe and dangerous, it's not home. She doesn't want to be there.
Hannah Vincent has taken a big risk by narrating her debut novel in the voice of a young child, but it's a risk that she has proved that she is well qualified to take as her characterisation of Indigo is perfect. She has created a little girl who is innocent, vulnerable and confused, but also perfectly believable. Indigo's childish curiosity, along with her confusion about the death of her mother are blended so elegantly together.
Layered between Indigo's narration is the story of her late mother Karen. The reader learns about Karen's life before her children, her marriage, motherhood and ultimately, her death. This insight into Indigo's heritage is essential, and adds another dimension the story.
The South African setting is exquisite, and the contrast between the wealthy neighbourhood and the slum-like dwellings is stark and pulls no punches and hides nothing.
I am incredibly impressed by this fabulous little novel. It's short, but deals with so many issues, and the story unravels slowly but quite perfectly.
My thanks to Emma from Myriad Editions who sent my copy for review.
Hannah Vincent began her writing life as a playwright after studying drama at the University of East Anglia. Her plays include , (Royal Court Theatre) and (National Theatre Studio). She joined the BBC as a television script editor, working on classic adaptations as well as original drama serials from 1996 – 2001. She now teaches Creative Writing for the Open University. She completed the MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University London in 2012 and is currently studying for her PhD at the University of Sussex. is Hannah’s first novel, an extract from which was shortlisted for the Writer's Retreat Competition. It was also shortlisted for the 2013 Hookline Novel Competition.
Follow her on Twitter @hannahvincent22 and check out the Alarm Girl Facebook page