Review: ‘Slip of a Fish’

Amy Arnold is a former Exeter student who graduated in 1986. Slip of a Fish is her debut novel and has been awarded the Northern Book Prize for 2018. RAZZ was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a sneak peak, prior to its publication on 1st November.

 Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold is a novel that confronts the mother-daughter relationship in a unique style, that makes it as much about the way that it is written as the story itself. Through Arnold’s narrative style, readers view a common type of relationship in an uncommon way, fully immersing ourselves in the mind of the protagonist, Ash.

Ash’s relationship with her young daughter, Charlie, is first portrayed with their illicit swimming in the lake off Toll Estate. Their love for swimming bonds mother and daughter and their intimacy is immediately clear. However, as the novel progresses, Charlie begins to slip away from her mother. She becomes closer to her friends, her dog, and to her friends’ mothers, who help Ash care for Charlie when Ash is deemed unable to cope alone. Both mother and daughter begin to struggle to understand one another. Charlie is frustrated that her mum can’t understand what the right clothes are for her to wear. Ash can’t understand why Charlie no longer wants to come to swim with her in their lake. As they grow further apart, water remains a constant symbol, something with which Ash continually attempts to unite them. This portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship is honest and relatable, but Arnold makes sure to add a twist.

Slip of a Fish powerfully explores familial relationships, presenting both those at the core, and the persons outside the family who influence its dynamic. The intimate relationship between Ash and the yoga instructor, Kate, is particularly interesting. Readers learn about this through Ash’s memories, meaning that we have to construct this relationship ourselves and gradually learn about how it has shaped Ash. Arnold is particularly skilful at withholding information and releasing it slowly throughout the narrative, holding readers into the storyline as they continue to delve deeper to find out more.

The most striking feature of Slip of a Fish is its sensual, fluid style, that almost mirrors the prominent symbol of water. Readers learn about the relationship between Ash and Charlie through a stream of consciousness format, viewing the world in the same unique manner as Ash. At the start of the novel, Ash is strongly characterised by her obsession with words, water and trees. Ash’s immersion in her physical environment makes for a strongly sensual novel as she engages with the nuances in the world around her. The narrative has a repetitive quality with the same images resurfacing and slipping into Ash’s thoughts processes, making readers feel truly lost inside Ash’s mind.

Ash is very conscious of the past and future, identifying her current situation through the prism of her memories and previous experiences. While this adds an extra layer to the narrative and constructs greater depth around the characters, it does sometimes cause difficulties in following the narrative thread. This is especially as the narrative takes a slow pace, with sudden intense bursts of action that are disorientating. The narrative becomes more fragmented as Ash starts to lose control of herself and the world around her, catalysed by a desperate attempt to reconnect with Charlie. The challenging narrative style may isolate some readers but will be well suited to fans of writers such as Ali Smith. It is also testament to Amy’s talent as a writer that, within her debut novel, she is able to establish her writing style so well, forming a place for herself within contemporary literature.

While Slip of a Fish is challenging, and slightly confusing at times, it was definitely worth a read. Arnold portrays the world in a unique way, unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and undeniably should be congratulated for such an achievement in her debut novel.

Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold is published on November 1 (And Other Stories £10)

-Katrina Bennett







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