Don’t Think A Single Thought – Diana Cambridge
This is a beautifully constructed book. As I read it, I felt I was being slowly wrapped in a python’s coils, being pulled relentlessly into the centre of Emma Bowden’s life. Each time I felt I’d learnt something about her, a tighter coil created another layer. The structure (which uses flashback chapters, a construct that I often find annoying) works better here than I’ve ever seen, with each flashback actually carrying the narrative forward. The way we slowly learn another piece, another piece, another piece of the childhood act that haunts Emma for the rest of her life is really well handled. It’s hard to know at the end whether the first version or the last version is what actually happened–Emma is an unreliable narrator.
The writing is also beautiful; other reviewers have commented on the elegance of the spare, cool prose. To me, it’s classic short story prose and the book IS short, barely more than a novella. Still, a slim volume can be a relief: something you can read in a couple of hours rather than ploughing through 900 pages of often bloated narrative over more days than you really want to spend with the characters. (That said, I did occasionally miss a richer drawing of the settings. I know Manhattan well, so I filled it in, but I found that sometimes what I was imagining as I read was secondhand, pulled from films, perhaps.) Perhaps because of the coolness, the slightly removed tone, I found myself fascinated by Emma rather than emotionally engaged with her, though I loved the style (and stylishness) of the writing.
As the author notes, Emma’s life has close parallels with the life of the writer Sue Kaufman. The details of the latter’s life I read after I’d finished the novel (I found a detailed article by Diana Cambridge herself). Dates, main events, and aspects of character tally with Emma’s. In a way it’s a re-imagining of Kaufman’s life, and a rather dark re-imagining at that. I found it an absolutely compelling read.
Published by Louise Walters Books in 2019. Also available in a limited edition yellow cover.