Central Reservation, by Will le Fleming
256pp. (Xelsion) ISBN 978 0 9569370 0 1
In Central Reservation, thirteen-year-old Holly wants desperately to be freed from the sisterly bonds that tie her to Yvonne, her twin, but she is shocked and guilty when Yvonne is killed in a freak accident involving the school bus. As she struggles to create a new self apart from her sister and realign her relationship with her widowed mother Belinda, Yvonne’s ghost follows her every move. Holly’s efforts are further complicated by outside forces and internal family conflicts; by a foot-and-mouth epidemic that brings MAFF operatives who prowl the countryside like hired assassins, and by “The Family” who descend on Holly’s isolated farm bringing comfort but trailing with them unresolved and hitherto unspoken “issues”.
Although death stalks the novel, the distant, third person narration holds mawkishness and sentiment at bay. Subtle switches in perspective add tension. At the hospital immediately after the fatal crash Belinda’s deep-seated grief merges with her new sense of loss but self-pity is quickly replaced by suspicion that “[h]er thin fierce child who always wanted to be alone […] had made it happen.” Black comedy undercuts painful emotion, such as in the authentically awkward family scene where Eva, Belinda’s sister-in-law, feels no compunction in suggesting that Holly should wear Yvonne’s clothes to the funeral or that her son should wear the black neck tie once worn by Holly’s father.
The whole is bound up with overt symbolism of renewal, in the greenery surrounding the farm and the Holly/Yvonne (Yew) pairing, contrasted starkly with fracture (of family and farming community) overlaid with deft descriptive passages of flaming pyres that reveal the wanton mass destruction of livestock: “against the last of the light in the sky they could see scraps in the air, tumbling and blowing. For a long second Holly tried to tell herself they were bats”.
- Excerpt: read the review in full the Times Literary Supplement, 30 March 2012