I’ve not yet found doctors and policemen to be getting younger, but it is a sobering thought when you discover a successful novelist is 29 to your 30, especially when you feel incredibly young yourself. Fresh from a Saltire Society First Book of the Year nomination, and a Betty Trask Prize win, for his 2016 debut, Kirkcaldy’s Daniel Shand has a new offering in the shape of Crocodile. This is the story of Chloe, who is spending the summer before high school with her grandparents as her mother can’t cope, although this reason is not evident to Chloe. She hangs about with a group of troublesome boys and gets up to some high-jinks, but it is in the aftermath of a family caravanning holiday that real danger strikes, and Chloe must find her own way to safety, re-discovering what that means.
There are shadows of Kerry Hudson’s excellent Tony Hogan, and Crocodile feels very much the contemporary working class Scottish novel, with not much to set it apart. Though the difference is the avoidance of my pet-hate of no speech marks…most of the time. But here’s the thing: sometimes the absence of speech marks works, for example, when conversations are taking place in Chloe’s head; sometimes she imagines the walls of her room goading her, other times she envisions more pleasant chats with her mother. But when actual conversations are taking place, the speech marks are there. As they should be.
Using Chloe’s viewpoint gives the reader a hint at her background, but nothing is explicit. Her use of counting before she makes a move or asks a question suggests an anxiety, a familiarity of being shot down and kept in her place. Another reference is given to a Truth or Dare game played at school, where she is inevitably asked “What’s the matter with your mum?” The theme of motherhood runs through the novel, including the image of the maternal crocodile who holds her babies in her mouth, keeping them safe. Chloe is addressed by name a handful of times, mostly by her grandmother, but by the author she is referred to throughout as “the girl”. This maybe a literary tool, but it sat uneasily with me, impersonal. Perhaps that was its aim.
There is no doubting that a promising career is on the cards for Shand – his writing craft is clever and stylish, like the imagery of the following: “She’s got this craving to crawl over the couch and dig her way into Karen’s brains, to see what she’s seen. She wants to rummage amongst the memories and wear them like jewellery.” Crocodile is an unsettling tale, but one which leaves me curious for more like it.
Crocodile is out on 1st November via Sandstone Press Ltd.