In Search of Adam
A taut and beautifully written debut novel by an exciting and accomplished new author.
Motherless, rootless and unprotected, Jude Williams’ childhood is fractured by the horror and experience of sexual abuse, forcing her to exist somewhere and nowhere in-between childhood and adulthood. Caught within the limitations of her own language and trapped within a family secret, Jude becomes the consequence of her mother’s tragedy. As she moves through the 1980s, Jude’s life is buffeted by choice and destiny and she collects experiences that layer her personal tragedy and plunge her into the darkest of worlds.
I have been a fan of Caroline Smailes’ work since I first picked up one of her novels in my less than bountiful local library about a year ago. This month, I got round to reading In Search of Adam, her first novel and I am not being over dramatic when I say it blew me away. I could not put my Kindle down.
Jude Williams is basically abandoned aged only six. Her mother dies and her father cares about beer and his new girlfriend more than his daughter. As if this wasn’t enough, she is forced to undergo the further hell of sexual abuse at the hands of her neighbour’s brother and Smailes spares no details. This is something that has to be said and it’s put across in a harrowing, horrific way which is the only way it should be. There’s bravery in this writing which is seldom seen, most writers would shy away from being graphic and literal about the abuse Jude suffers but Smailes puts it out there and makes it real. This is truly commendable.
Smailes casts an array of characters who Jude watches from her bedroom window or meets in school but none of them get close to her. She remains isolated and alone carrying around the double burden of the loss of her mother and the sexual abuse she has suffered. As the novel progresses we learn why Jude’s mother killed herself and the secrets in her past and how these impact upon Jude’s father and most painfully Jude herself.
Much of the strength of this novel comes from its unconventional format, words made bold or repeated incessantly are integral to feeling and seeing Jude’s pain. To say I enjoyed this book would be the wrong word but I think it was an essential read conveying serious, traumatic issues in a genuine way without frills or pussy-footing. A triumph.