Thaw by Fiona Robyn

Book Review
Title: Thaw
Author: Fiona Robyn
Publisher: Snowbooks
Released: 2009
Pages: 350
ISBN-10: 1906727090
ISBN-13: 978-1906727093
Stars: 5.0

British author Fiona Robyn has written a visceral, poignant, and often agonizing story of a young woman named Ruth White who at 32-years-of-age doesn’t know whether she wants to be 33. Her small life is unfulfilling, seemingly void of love or meaning, and the death of her mother when she was a young girl haunts her still.

Her relationships are strained and awkward and her self-esteem is almost non-existent, even though she is well-educated and works as a microbiologist. Ruth is very good about saving her money and compulsive about keeping a tidy flat, in which she harbors her deep, dark secrets. Ruth has decided to give herself three months in which to make up her mind about whether she will commit suicide. In her daily diary entries we unravel the mystery of her past, bear witness to her present, and ultimately root for her future.

Robyn shares Ruth’s tale in a first person narrative of magnificent prose. In a very clever form of self-marketing, she created a blog for the book that was launched on March 1, 2010 and posted an entry every day for 3 months. She also used Facebook to spread the word and created a remarkable reading event for those of us willing to take the ride with her. She is an excellent, courageous writer who has created one of the most honest and truthful characters I have ever come across. I care about Ruth more than I’ve cared for any fictional character in a very long time. She is embedded in my consciousness. Fiona Robyn has written something painfully beautiful.

She has also written about depression with much clarity and compassion. I fell in love with Ruth and found myself hoping for her happiness and wanting her relationship with Red, the Russian artist who paints her portrait, to blossom into a love she could find redemption within.

In Thaw we meet Ruth’s father and his second wife, Julie, her aunt Abbie, her equally depressed co-worker Mary, and her friends Zoë and Sara and each character is written with subtle nuance.

I spoke to Dad today. I thought I ought to call him to keep things moving after seeing him last week. It was a difficult conversation. At least before, I was able to talk to him about surface things and he’d let me… Now he keeps asking me silly questions like, ‘How do you really feel about Julie?’ or, ‘Tell me the truth about what it’s like to work at the hospital.’ I kept taking the conversation back to where it should have been. Then out of the blue, he said that I should look after my own money if I want to. I said, ‘No, I want you to,’ and he said, ‘Really? You’re sure?’ with a warm glow in his voice. I did want to look after it myself. But it was an important transaction between us, that he did it and that I was grateful. Like when a friend is known for making good soup, and everyone always says, ‘Good old Pete and his amazing soup.’ And the soup is good but not really amazing. But Pete likes to mention it himself every so often, and his friends really do care about him, soup or no soup, so the soup becomes the symbol. There’s a place for that. We don’t have to tell the truth all of the time.

I knew someone who committed suicide and I know the pain that her decision caused for her loved ones. She hung herself and left a note. She’d done all the research so she would know how to do it effectively and on the last few days of her life seemed to be more calm and happy than she had been for a long time. She’d already made peace with her decision and she knew she wouldn’t have to endure the pain anymore.

It really does take more courage to live than it does to die. If Ruth goes through with it, I’m going to be heartbroken, I must say. But then again, this is a heartbreaking story. I’ve never witnessed pain being written about in such an exquisite way.

There are only a couple of journal entries left on Fiona’s/Ruth’s blog and I don’t know how it’s going to end yet but I decided to post my review now anyway. I’m praying for a happy ending even though that I know that in real life, things don’t always turn out that way.

Fiona Robyn has a fan in me, for life.

Getting To Know Author Fiona Robyn

British author Fiona Robyn was first introduced to me on Book Blogs where she was posting about her new novel, Thaw. She contacted me shortly thereafter about participating in her Blogsplash (something I’d never heard of before) for Thaw and I thought it was a great idea, not to mention a bit of ingenious marketing, and I wanted to participate when she launched the debut of Thaw online in blog format on March 1st, 2010.

After Fiona made her introduction, I joined her blogs – all four of them! Fortunately two of them consist of very short posts, which make for quick, but enjoyable reading. Her daily blog is at a small stone and her blog about being a writer is at Planting Words. Her main site is at www.fionarobyn.com. She can be contacted at fiona@fionarobyn.com.

Fiona, welcome to my blog! I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to interview you and I thank you for joining me here.

Christine: Please tell us about your books. I believe you have written three novels, a book of poetry, and a non-fiction book.

Fiona: The non-fiction book is called ‘A Year of Questions: How to slow down and fall in love with life’ so I don’t have to tell you any more about that one! My poetry collection is called ‘Living Things’, and my novels are ‘The Letters’ (Violet receives a series of mysterious letters dated 1960 from a mother and baby home), ‘The Blue Handbag’ (gardener Leonard becomes a reluctant detective) and ‘Thaw’ (Ruth decides whether or not to carry on living).

Christine: What were your major inspirations for each novel?

Fiona: My novels always begin with my main characters, who ‘turn up in my head.’ As I get to know them, they tell me their stories.

Christine: What compels you to write?

Fiona: I write for many reasons. It helps me to pay attention, and it is also very satisfying to put the right words into the right order. I write my novels in order to tell my characters’ stories.

Christine: What is the thing you love most about the writing process?

Fiona: It’s nice when I’m finished. ; ) But the best bit is when readers enjoy my books, and tell me so.

Christine: Have you self-published all of your books?

Fiona: No – a lovely publisher called Snowbooks published my three novels.

Christine: Tell me about Snowbooks.

Fiona: Snowbooks are a small publisher in the UK with a very good reputation in the industry.

Christine: What do you enjoy and dislike about self-marketing?

Fiona: I love meeting new people from all over the world, and making new friends, and selling books! I choose the things I want to do, and so there’s nothing I don’t like…

Christine: Do you have any self-marketing tips for other DIY authors or aspiring writers?

Fiona: I find it helpful to do only the things I enjoy doing anyway (e.g. blogging about the things that interest me) and then selling more books becomes a bonus rather than a necessity. I’d also advise people to be as authentic as they can.

Christine: Why did you decide to publish Thaw online?

Fiona: It was an experiment – I hope that I’ll find new readers, and that maybe some of them will want to find out what happens and buy the book before the three months are up. We’ll see.

Christine: Where did you discover the concept of a blogsplash and can you explain it?

Fiona: I wanted to let as many people as possible know about the project at the beginning, so fellow bloggers helped me out by publishing the first entry on the same day as me.

Christine: How successful has the blogsplash been so far for Thaw?

Fiona: Good – there are currently 170 members of the Facebook group, and the blog has had 2500 hits since Monday.

Christine: I really enjoy you’re a small stone blog because I am a poet and I love what you are able to create with so few words. How long have you been writing poetry?

Fiona: Since I was 20.

Christine: How would you describe your particular style as a poet?

Fiona: I’m not sure! Accurate observation is important to me.

Christine: I noticed that one of your top 10 favourite novels is ‘And the Ass saw the Angel’ by Nick Cave. I love to read fiction written by famous songwriters. Can you tell me about the book and why it’s one of your top 10?

Fiona: I wrote that list a long time ago, but it is a very good book – full of darkness and wonderful luscious language. I tend to like American writers more than British ones, so this is an exception.

Christine: [Nick Cave is Australian.] What do you love to do besides writing?

Fiona: I’m loving salsa at the moment! I’ve become addicted, and go to classes twice a week.

Christine: That sounds like fun! What are your goals for your writing for this year and for the future?

Fiona: I’m having a break as I’ve just finished my fourth novel – I’ll start the next in September. Maybe some poems will arrive in the gap…

Christine: I read on your website that you are “currently growing potatoes, learning Russian and investigating Zen thought.” Do you care to elaborate on how those endeavors are evolving? What have you learned?

Fiona: My potatoes are coming along nicely! I’m still struggling with Russian – I love the sound of the language, and aim to be able to read Russian classics in the original. One day… And I’m still reading a lot about Buddhism – it’s been very helpful to me in various ways.

Thank you again Fiona for spending time with me and my blog readers. It was a pleasure to talk to you and to get to know you better and I’m really looking forward to reading all of your books!

www.ahandfulofstones.com
100readers.blogspot.com
www.fionarobyn.com/thawblogsplash.htm

Blogsplash! Thaw by Fiona Robyn

Ruth’s diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth’s first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

*

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat — books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about — princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,’ before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading here.

Fiona Robyn also writes blogs; quite a few of them to be exact. You can find out about 100 Readers, Planting Words, a small stone, and a handful of stones here.