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Mean Mode Median

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Success Stories

by Aliya Whiteley


Buy this book from Amazon

ISBN 1 904781 39 X
bluechrome, 2004
181pp, paperback
Retail price 7.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

This unusual novel is the work of an author who has the talent to go all the way. The brief prologue grabs our attention. A few sentences into the main narrative, and we think we recognise the voice. A few more sentences, and we are certain we don’t. It’s the kind of book that wins prizes, and the wonder is that Aliya Whiteley has had to go the route of independent publishing instead of being snapped up by one of the big conglomerates. Headline, it’s your loss!

Mean Mode Median will not actually win a prize, I’m afraid, simply because it is published by the unknown bluechrome imprint rather than by a big name. As a result, Ms Whiteley is unlikely to be going on a nation-wide book-signing tour, sitting in front of huge posters advertising her novel. She won’t have agents queueing to buy the film rights. Her work will not be Waterstone’s "Book of the Month". W H Smith probably won’t give it the time of day. (I hope I’m wrong about all these things, but I fear I’m right.)

Yet, apart from publicity, there are not many things a top publisher could have added to the overall package. The cover art couldn’t be improved on (though the standard of proof-reading could). Furthermore, large commercial publishers tend to have editors who want to re-write the author’s product to make it more appealing to the market they have in mind. Sometimes this makeover is for the best, but all too often it is no more than a confidence trick by editors and major publishers to justify their existence. I don’t believe Aliya Whiteley could have written a much better book, even with an editor to guide her way. I wonder just how many incompetent publishers’ readers threw her manuscript aside, and I wonder on what grounds.

As I read on, I wondered if maybe it had something to do with the subject matter. The theme of two siblings with a special relationship has been round the block a few times, it’s true. Did publishers feel that a newish writer shouldn’t be so ambitious as to take it on unless she was ready to compete with Cocteau and Eliot? Did people say the same thing to Helen Dunmore? Is there, in fact, a theme anywhere in fiction that hasn’t already been "done"?

In terms of sheer good writing, I found this compared favourably with Dunmore (not that they have much in common apart from the basic premise), and in many ways the style is a breath of fresh air – clean, finely-tuned, clever without being pretentious, oblique without descending into obscurity. It could easily have been a longer book. My justification for this statement is exemplified by the episode involving Karl, which I found mildly dissatisfying -- it all happened too quickly, and the opportunity to delve further into his relationship with James was missed. One might argue that Karl was not central to the plot; I felt his role should have been pivotal. On the other hand, the story’s ending, highly symbolic as it was, was not predictable, nor could I have wished for anything different or "better", though I imagine one or two readers will try to read a romantic novel that isn’t there and will be disappointed at the outcome.

I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this far from "average" work, if you’ll forgive my attempt at a witty allusion. As always, I relish the opportunity to be in at the start of what will, I’m certain, be a flourishing writing career.