When I’m approached to review a book a lot depends on the mood I’m in, and when an intern from SilverWood Books popped up offering a free copy of Cells by Harriet Grace, I was definitely in two minds. The subject matter – infertility – didn’t really grab me. Was I ready for an ‘issues’ book, or a thinly disguised misery memoir? And SilverWood is a self-publishing service – would this be a vanity effort? But in the end as curiosity got the better of me (it usually does), I took a sneak preview of the Kindle sample and was sufficiently intrigued to read the whole thing.I’m glad I did, because it’s a very satisfying read executed with confidence and style. As such it has changed my perception of self-publishing and makes me question even more where the commercial publishing industry thinks its going right now.
Cells is an intense human drama played out by three people, Martha Morgan a successful journalist, her husband Grant, a practising analyst (complete with couch!) and Jon, an office messenger with ‘Jesus hair’ at the national paper where Martha works. Already this is sounding like a conventional love triangle, but this is not a story that plays out in any conventional way. The writing described by one reviewer as ‘richly detailed and emotionally intense’ invites us to walk with each of the characters and simply see where they will take us. Once or twice I thought I glimpsed a plot twist coming up but was always proved wrong. However this does not make it dull. There’s a strong undercurrent of suspense as we contemplate all the things that might go wrong (some of which do, some of which don’t). It’s unpredictable in a good way. The ending is also nicely judged. Two of the characters appear to have found happiness, but this is a triangle – what will happen when the final connecting line is drawn? The author leaves us to decide.
The book is not without its problems. Although the characters were entirely believable, I didn’t find myself in absolute sympathy with any of them (possibly exacerbated by the three points of view) so that while I wanted to know what happened, I still read with a sense of detachment. On a more superficial level, I personally would never have read this book on the strength of its title, jacket and pitch. The title in particular summons up to me– a one- or at best two-dimensional story (biology/science/imprisonment?) and doesn’t flag up the emotional complexity of a novel that recalls, say, Sally Vickers or Maggie O’Farrell. To me this is not a book about infertility: it’s a lot more interesting than that!
I can also see it’s not a book that everyone will want to read, so maybe it would never be an out-and-out best seller, but it’s a piece of quality writing that IMO should have found a publisher. I’m sure ten (or do I mean twenty?) years ago it would have done. As things are, I hope that the self-publishing route will find this author the audience she deserves.