Monday, 22 February 2016

Book Review: Melissa by Jonathan Taylor

By Jonathan Taylor
Published by Salt Publishing
Available in paperback

Moments after the death of a young girl, Melissa, all of her neighbours from a small street in Stoke-on-Trent, experience the same musical hallucination, drawing this fragmented community together for a brief moment in time. A high pitched, almost unbearable sound turns into a sweet, delightful sound that no one can replicate. People come out of their houses, full of joy, embracing each other. In exactly the same moment as a family grieves there are people hugging, and appreciating each other just below the window, on the street.

Based on true events, Jonathan Taylor's latest novel, Melissa, weaves together fiction, fact, newspaper reports and witness statements as the impact of Melissa's death and the hallucination spark tremors through the community. There were moments when I felt like I was reading a documentary - layers of stories are built up to create an amazing novel exploring the psychology behind the power of music, maths and science all wrapped up in the grieving process as relationships form and crumble.

A media frenzy ensues, trampling over Melissa's grieving family. The aftermath of this event is captured by Taylor as the reader sees the characters struggle to deal with the loss of a loved one, deal with the pressure of media and the pressure of expectation from society. Communication and the opposite, silence play a pivotal role in the aftermath.

Melissa's family struggle to deal with the death of their daughter as well as the event which followed her death. Relationships disintegrate but it is not all doom and gloom - there is comedy - dark and witty which runs through this novel.

Not only does this novel explore the death of Melissa but also the death of the spirit of neighbours and communities - people no longer know who is living next door and they treat each other with suspicion. There is also the death of decent media. Taylor looks at the way the media can manipulate stories and people to gain attention grabbing headlines. A single event is turned into a media circus with Melissa's family are denied privacy while rumours rip apart families and communities.

This is an impressive novel, which successfully captures a wide range of themes and ideas. To me, while reading Melissa, I imagined the central story of the hallucination as the trunk of a tree while the aftermath on individual characters were like branches, heading off in different directions but always coming back to the central idea.

One of the reviews from the back cover of the book calls Melissa 'an intricate kaleidoscope of a novel' and I totally agree. This really is a must read, and deserves lots of readers.

You can read more about Jonathan's research into Melissa by following this link.

You can buy a copy from your favourite bookshop.

The author kindly sent me a copy.

1 comment:

Kath said...

I really like the sound of this one, especially as it looks at the impact of what effectively becomes a public bereavement with the media attention it garners, and covers a number of issues which interest me. Thanks for drawing my attention to it. I'll check it out.