Gavin Salisbury is a modern British polymath. A chemist by training, his creative output includes paintings, music, poetry and fiction. ‘Fade-Out’ is his first novel for adults.
The book tells the story of Jane Matthews, a twenty-two year-old British university student and the strange illness that has afflicted her father, mother and two younger siblings, Robby and Kate. One by one, they have all lost the power of speech. Why this has happened is unclear, as is the reason why Jane has not been similarly afflicted.
The story is told in the form of Jane’s undated diary entries. As we join her, Jane is struggling to keep the family’s collective head above water. Her father was the first to succumb to the illness and had to stop working. Without his monthly pay packet, the bills have started to mount up. The electricity and gas have already been cut off and Jane is reduced to shoplifting to feed the rest of the family. Jane has given up her university course to look after the others full-time and has started to wonder what will happen when winter comes and the house becomes unbearably cold. She knows she ought to seek professional help but is scared of breaking the family up.
On one of her rare trips out of the house, Jane gets chatted up in the library by a stranger called Sean. Such normal human contact is so unfamiliar that initially Jane doesn’t know how to react. However, Sean is fun to be with and full of interesting stories about his large family. Before she knows it, Jane is going out with him. When she tries to explain about her family problems, though, Sean doesn’t believe her. She’s ashamed to take him inside her cold, untidy house to see for himself but every time she tells him the story it sounds more unreal than the last time. When they have a big fight over the issue, Jane finally realises that it’s crunch time. Is she going to dump Sean and carry on as before or should she contact the authorities and see if they can do something to help her voiceless family?
‘Fade-Out’ tells an original story in an interesting way. The use of the diary format allows us to get close to Jane’s thoughts and fears from the start, which pulled me into the story universe very quickly. The problem that her family is facing is highly unusual, yet Jane explains it in such a natural way that you don’t question either the problem or the individualistic way in which Jane has chosen to deal with it. Her thought processes seem logical to her and therefore to us, too. Throughout the story, I desperately wanted Jane to find a way through her nightmare and back to a normal existence and that kept me turning the pages.
As is often the case with first person narratives, the strengths of the approach are matched by equal weaknesses. In this case, the problem I had was that I saw everything from Jane’s perspective and no-one else’s. When Sean gets angry with her, I don’t feel his emotions but only Jane’s in reaction to what he says. Probably more seriously, I don’t ever get a real, emotional understanding of how it feels for Jane’s parents or siblings to be unable to speak. This is a natural consequence of the choice of point of view but, as the story played out, it did limit the extent to which I could get fully involved in what is clearly a tragic story.
‘Fade-Out’ is an intriguing short novel that explores an original idea in a novel way. I enjoyed it very much. It comes as a nicely produced paperback from Pendragon Press with an interesting cover image by Terry Cooper. I’ll certainly be looking out for other works by Gavin Salisbury in future.
(pub: Pendragon Press. 128 page paperback. Price: £8.00. ISBN: 978-1-90686-437-8)
check out websites: www.pendragonpress.net, www.gavin-salisbury.com and www.pendragonpress.net/books/fade-out-by-gavin-salisbury