Source: Review Copy
Publication: 13 December 2018 from Orenda Books. In ebook now
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.
With echoes of Armistead Maupin, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely wrought characters and set against the unmistakable backdrop of Deptford and South London.
This is not going to be a long review because Attend is a book you really need to read for yourself and rehashing the synopsis isn’t the way to understand how beautifully delicate this book really is.
Attend is a book of contrasts. Sam, Anne, Derek and Mel have all lived their lives in the grimy East End of London where the working class way is to chance your arm and see where the punches fall, which is, all too often, on the wrong side of the law. Hardship and the law of the jungle are paramount in this part of Deptford, where only the strong survive.
Amidst this macho culture West Camel has created a delicate love story of strength and survival that shows us a different way. His precise,measured and evocative prose contrasts beautifully with cruel and shameful behaviour. Camel has an uncanny ability to show the beauty amidst the ugliness of poverty, drugs and violence.
Sam and Anne have one thing in common beyond their East End upbringing; an absence of love and affection in their lives. Soon they will have, unbeknownst to each other, a second connecting thread. That thread is Deborah, a Gaimanesque figure who lives in a hidden house below the docks and just above the water. Constantly sewing, Deborah’s story is one she tells only to a chosen few and it spans the decades since the First World War.
Deborah knows the secrets of Deptford’s buildings like no other inhabitant and her secrets, together with her uncanny ability to pop upon Sam and Anne whenever she sees an opportunity, are what draw each of them to her.
As we learn Deborah’s history, and understand that her home is not the only hidden thing about Deborah, we come to see that this seamstress has lessons she can teach both Sam and Anne about being true to oneself and survival in an urban jungle.
West Camel skilfully weaves a tapestry of multi-layered threads and like Theseus finding his the way to the Minotaur, it is that trail of thread that will ultimately allow Sam and Annie to come back home through the Labyrinth, enriched and at peace.
Verdict: Delicate, evocative prose telling an intriguing story with contemporary relevance, insight and compassion.
About West Camel
Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch.
He currently combines his work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations, including ghostwriting a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the European Literature Network. He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres, and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.
Follow West Camel on Twitter @West_Camel