JUST ONE CHANCE

NOW OR NEVER …

Sweet William is a breathtakingly dark thriller that spans forty-eight hours in the life of a desperate father and a three-year-old child in peril, who needs insulin to stay alive. It tells a story of mental illness, a foster family under pressure, and an angry father separated from his adored little boy…

Rarely will you encounter a book that puts its reader through such an emotional wringer so consistently and unrelentingly, as Sweet William does. From its opening depiction of a convicted murderer, Raymond Orrey, escaping from a supposedly secure mental unit, in a quest to locate his estranged little boy, Maitland’s rat-a-tat prose, and breathless and highly unreliable first person narration from Orrey, leads you on a dark journey in the company of a deeply disturbed individual. As Orrey traverses the country in order to track down his son, violence is never far away, despite Orrey’s own cool, calm and disarming justification of the actions he takes on route…

With a background in journalism, and particularly in the reporting of mental health issues, there is no better writer to immerse us in the dark workings of Orrey’s conscience and psyche. Maitland never fails to convey to the reader what seems to us the shambolic and irrational thought processes of Orrey, but by the same token depicting Orrey’s moments of clarity and clear thinking so resonant of mental disturbance. I found the thinking and over-thinking of Orrey punctuated by extremely disturbing flashes of violence, extremely compelling, as he takes stock of each obstacle in his way, and how to deal with them. It’s interesting how Maitland consistently imbues Orrey with moments of total lucidity in terms of how people behave in certain situations, but how his darker reasoning precludes him from keeping to this path, with the holy grail of being reunited with his son leading him on. Orrey’s stream of consciousness is at times exhausting to read with its taut structure, and unrelenting pace, but perfectly fits the chaotic state of his mind. I was captivated by the utter bleakness of Orrey’s existence, whilst recognising the dangerous impulses that define him as a man and a father.

Although, there is a parallel story playing out regarding William’s foster parents, and their struggles with his medical condition, overall I was far less engaged with this, although it was necessary to place Orrey’s former deeds in context. The depiction of a family in crisis with conflicting voices and ideas as to the raising of William was neatly portrayed, and the simmering tension between the protagonists was palpable throughout. However, as events played out, it was Orrey’s moments of crisis, self doubt or overt bullishness, that held my attention, right up until the extremely ambiguous ending, which teases the reader into filling in their own finale. Although not in subject matter but in tone and feel, the book reminded me very much of Jon McGregor’s brilliant novel Even The Dogs, where gaps in the narrative allow the reader in, to second guess the protagonist, something that Maitland achieves here too with some aplomb. An emotive and exhausting reading experience, but utterly worth it. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

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