Down in the woods where everyone goes…
Publisher: Headline (Hachette)
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 9th May 2013
Date Reviewed: 7th November 2013
Adamma started school at Crofton College in England when her father, a Nigerian ambassador, moved country once again. More familiar with the US, Adamma is somewhat surprised by the reality of the British boarding school, but she finds a friend in Scarlett, a girl who is obviously not prim and proper but not necessarily bad either. The village in which the College is situated is dinky and quiet, but where there are many young people there is surely to be an issue someday.
Follow Me Down is a mystery that twists and turns, ties itself in knots deliberately, and uses red herrings to the extent you wish other mysteries would whether or not you work it out early on. Told via two time instances – the before and after, that descend towards the two mystery threads simultaneously – the story is a quick read whilst sporting a lot of suspense.
Let’s deal with the mysteries first. Byrne has made a valiant effort to stop the reader from truly working them out, in particular the later of the two, and it must be sad that even if you do work them out, it’s quite likely you will still doubt yourself. Byrne’s use of twists and the structure that affords a lot of ambiguity are two of the highlights of the book and worthy of inclusion in the ‘reasons you should read this book’ stakes. Some may find the twists and red herrings annoying, and it must be said that the ending is just as ambiguous as the overall structure – there is an ending but a lot is left unsaid.
But it’s easy to say that the author’s intention may not have been to shock or surprise as much as to study social conventions and ever-present issues. The ‘initial’ heart of the mystery, a possible rape, whilst surrounded by the ‘thriller’ threads, is studied as though it might form the basis of an essay. The book delves into the reasoning victims can be wary of telling the police what happened, it casts a light on the concept of linking clothing and drunkenness with fault, and it also shows how the perception of other women can be an issue where instead there should be support. This spotlight doesn’t run the entirety of the book, but it does cause you to wonder whether your approach to the story and your belief that it’s a ‘simple’ mystery to be enjoyed, is correct.
Going back to the ‘reasons you should read this book’, perhaps the most compelling aspect of Byrne’s creation is her handling of culture and contrasts. The origins and cultural influences of the characters mean that Follow Me Down is a true blend, and Byrne makes every effort to get it right. Adamma is from Nigeria but has spent a lot of time in the US – her narration, when she speaks of herself, is naturally peppered with American terms as well as the understandable various comparisons between England and the States. Her American terminology and nature is matched by her Nigerian roots – she often speaks to her mother in Igbo, for example. This is matched by the British characters – when Adamma relates their conversations they always use the British terms for everything. This approach is a delight in a world where a lack of correct dialect is rife, and it means that the parts of Adamma’s nature – her Nigerian birth, her American schooling, her English Sixth Form years – are each given equal baring. As a study in diversity with characters being ‘different’ just because, it is excellent.
There are some flaws in the plan – there are strange turns of phrase and ways of describing actions, for example Adamma lifts her eyelashes instead of opening her eyes, and these seem stylistic choices rather than dialect ones. There is some repetition and curious uses of emphasis. There are occasions where people don’t speak as you’d expect them to – using very colloquial language where they otherwise use an ‘older’ style, for example – and this can be jarring. Yet as a whole the writing is simply different, not bad, and just something to get used to.
It would be fair to say that if you’re going to find Follow Me Down difficult, it’s likely going to be dissatisfaction with the ending. As Byrne ceases use of red herrings and the answer is allowed out into the open, it may not be as clear as you feel it ought to be. It will be obvious what’s happened, in a literal sense, but it may seem as though Byrne is still trying to hold things back. This isn’t a book for people who like stories neatly tied at the end.
Follow Me Down is in many ways abstract. It is ambiguous and written in a style very much its own. But it also packs quite a punch long before the mysteries are resolved and is a shining example of cultural differences in one place done well. It is a quick read whilst not being particularly fast-paced, it explores the thin line between love and hate, and it makes a very good attempt (and is successful in many ways) at confounding the reader.
The best way to conclude is to say this book is like Marmite. You’ll either love it or hate it, but even if you hate the story you will likely love other aspects of it.
I received this book for review from Headline.
November 13, 2013, 1:48 am
Oo, sounds interesting! I am a sucker for a boarding school book — I know I would have hated attending boarding school, but I never tire of reading about them.
November 13, 2013, 8:07 am
I tried to read this but it just didn’t grab me.
November 13, 2013, 12:20 pm
The lifting the eyelashes bit sounds a little bizarre!
November 13, 2013, 4:46 pm
You’ve left me a little split on this book. I love the idea of the twists and red herrings but I do prefer a tidy ending!