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Waterline by Ross Raisin, book reviewRoss Raisin’s Waterline is the story of Mick, a former worker in the shipyards on the Clyde, who has recently lost his wife. This is the story of his grief, and takes him from Glasgow to London.

One reason that Waterline appealed to me was its setting. I have family in Glasgow, and I myself live in London, so I was attracted by the combination of the two settings. Almost immediately however, the style of the narration jarred with me. Mick and his family are Glaswegian, and although written in third person, Mick is the narrator and so the story is told with a written Glaswegian accent. Having read the accompanying press release, Ross Raisin is an Englishman who appears to have never lived in Glasgow. This may have had an effect on my reaction to the style – the Glaswegian style and phrases seemed self-conscious somehow, standing out much as if the book was trying to hard. Every time a sentence ended with “but” (a common Glasgow habit), it seemed to jump off the page at me. A lot of it was actually accurate, but there were times when it wasn’t written properly.

This issue with the style is one reason why I struggled to get into Waterline. Another is that it is not an easy read. Mick cannot cope with the loss of his wife, and retreats within himself. He becomes panic-stricken at the thought of being in their house, and so takes to sleeping in the shed. At times I wanted to shout at the pages of the novel, tell him to pull himself together – it was fairly obvious where he would end up if he didn’t. But this reaction provoked another feeling – that who am I to judge this characters grief? I have thankfully never experienced the loss of someone so close, but this means I cannot fathom Mick’s choices and actions. While this aspect of the story makes for a difficult and frustrating read, it certainly provoked a variety of emotions.

I noticed that I was having to push myself to pick up the book and keep going during Mick’s grieving in Glasgow. However, once he ran off to London and started getting himself together (to a point) and working in a hotel kitchen, I found it was much easier to keep reading. I wanted to keep reading and see Mick getting things back on track, which I’m sure is what his wife would have wanted.

“…it is not a nice relaxing read. It will make you think though.”

But of course things go wrong again. After leaving the hotel, Mick tries to find more work and stay on his feet, but he soon ends up on the streets. This is where Waterline really becomes harrowing. Mick does not seem to realise what he has become – we have the occasional glimpse of him through strangers, passers-by, but it is some time before Mick realises he is truly homeless and a mess. Again I began to find it hard to pick up the book and keep going. I disliked Mick’s friend Beans, who seemed a bit mad and not a good influence on Mick. I willed Mick to try and better his situation, but he just kept going as he was.

Eventually though, things do begin to improve, and once again I found myself keen to keep reading. My changing attitudes to Waterline, that is whether I wanted to pick up the book or not, form a clear parallel to what was happening to Mick. When he was struggling from day to day, not doing anything to help himself, I had to push myself to pick up the book – my apathy matched Micks. When he was getting himself back upright, I was a keen reader, willing him along.

Waterline is not a book I can truly say I enjoyed. It provoked some unexpected reactions in me, and has made me think about the plight of the homeless. But it was not an easy or pleasant read, and although my irritation with the Glaswegian faded, I was still very aware of it throughout the novel. Ross Raisin’s novel has left me thinking, and actually feeling somewhat drained with all the ups and downs both in Waterline and my reading of it, but it is not a nice relaxing read. It will make you think though.

Waterline by Ross Raisin
Published by Penguin Viking, July 2011
Many thanks to Penguin Viking for providing a review copy of Waterline.

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by Ross Raisin

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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