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Alive and Kicking


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by Clare Woodward

Alive and Kicking begins in a hospital ward where Julia Grant is recovering from a failed suicide attempt; her husband and two sons have been killed in a car crash six months earlier, leaving her with no valid reason for staying alive. She exists now in a limbo that is both claustrophobic and barren, unable to relate to anyone beyond herself. Then, as she prepares to leave hospital, Julia learns that her sister Becky is newly pregnant. Although she regrets the loss of her husband, it is the loss of her two sons that has devastated Julia and slowly she realises that she wants another child. This is easier said than done; she is forty-one and the process of courtship, even should she find a suitable mate, could take too long. Ultimately she asks Owen Richards, a computer technician at the college where she is taking evening classes, to father her child. Since he already has a partner, there should be no awkward long-term commitments.

This is a novella rather than a novel not because of its length, but because of its concentration on Julia herself. We see her first, briefly, through the eyes of the nurse and counsellor allocated to care for her, but soon we are locked into her own world-view, self-centred, without colour or detail, often callous. We never learn what she was like before, as wife and mother, but as the novella starts, she is, for all the tragedy she has endured, a relatively unsympathetic character, a conventional housewife in comfortable circumstances with nothing much to fill her life. Other people are there to be used - she is concerned as to how to approach Owen with her request, but not about the emotional consequences for him if he agrees to it. (Not consciously, anyway; her sub-conscious motives become apparent later.)

It is evidence of Clare Woodwards skill as a writer that she makes us care for Julia and want to see, at the very least, a positive outcome to her ordeal. And she is able, very effectively, to let us inhabit the closed world of Julia's grief, a world initially without colour or human contact, even, in the most literal sense, without humanity.

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Review by Sally Roberts Jones

Open Book

ISBN 0 9538688 1 8 Published by Tregolwyn, 2000
Hardback, 197pp Retail price 12.95

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Alive and Kicking