MEAN MODE MEDIAN
By Aliya Whiteley

Reviewed by Liza Granville

First things first: a nice looking book, a clever title. Having said that I feel there's a need for real concern about the lack of editorial direction (and even intervention where needed) associated with some small publishing houses. Aliya Whiteley is clearly a competent writer with a good central idea--there is much potential here and I hope she will continue to hone her skills--but judging by her short stories this should have been a better novel. The plot is carefully worked out but sometimes the prose is flat and occasionally it's clumsy. At times, it felt like reading a work plan prepared prior to writing a novel, rather than the novel itself. There's a spark missing. One chapter is set out in something best described as blank verse. There's no apparent reason for this.

The work focuses on the emotionally doomed children of a woman who loathes life (and presumably herself) and a father who seems totally bemused by his very existence. Starved of affection, these two children appear to have consoled themselves with the belief that they were 'special' and different. The novel is constructed using five viewpoints, probably too many, but this can work provided each narrative voice is distinct. This can be achieved in various ways, for example through individual speech patterns, varying sentence length, different word usage, pitch, or idiosyncrasies to the extent where it ought to be possible to know who is doing the telling without necessarily being told. Unfortunately there is only one voice here, and that is the author's. This voice tells us everything; we are shown very little.

There is also a problem with the main protagonist in that she comes over as thoroughly unlikable. A character can be mad and bad and still engage the reader, but Anna is self-obsessed and, frankly, a bore. Apart from mild (and short-lived) compassion at her underlying yearning for inclusion, this reader found it impossible to empathise with her. She relays every single one of her thought processes in tedious detail, maintaining a deadpan voice in every situation--during sex, life threatening accident, news of father's death, witness of a savage attack on her brother. This may well be intentional, but it is not gripping.

Edward, Anna's brother, is potentially a beguiling character, perhaps a little vapid at times for a man of undoubted power, but interesting none the less. It would have been more balanced if more of his conversations with others--'his conversions'--had been included. That they were not feels like evasion on the part of the author. The same goes for whatever Anna said to John to turn him into someone as psychologically damaged as the rest of the characters.

The idea of the mother who'd locked herself in the attic for thirteen years was an interesting one, but the non-reaction of her family meant it lacked credibility. During all that time her husband hasn't asked for a reason? He didn't react when he knew she'd crept into his bed in his absence? This raises questions that are never satisfactorily answered. It wasn't believable. Neither were her interchanges with her husband, James, when she finally breaks her silence, nor the way she was shuffled off to make room for the idiotic Karl.

Aliya Whiteley set herself a difficult task by attempting a novel about such emotionally stunted people. On this occasion I do not feel she has been entirely successful. However, I look forward to reading more of her work in the near future.

Mean Mode Median by Aliya Whiteley. Pb, 184pp, £7.99. Published by Bluechrome.

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