Closed Doors was recommended to me by Naomi as part of her Feminist Sundays series. It sounded like a rivetting read, being written from the point of view of an 11 year old boy,Michael, whose mother (Ma) is raped one night by a stranger coming home from work and the trauma that ensues. This trauma is compounded by the fear of attitudes at that time and place – the book is set in the early eighties against a backdrop of the Falklands War and miners’ strike on a remote Scottish island.
Lisa O’Donnell started her career as a screenwriter, winning the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000, before turning to novels. It shows! This book was a complete page turner and I read it in one sitting. It is beautifully plotted and paced (ignoring the fact that the beginning was a little one-dimensional and slow) in a way that the action – even though it is all set on one small island – never lets up. The sense of time, ways of life, in the early 80s – no cars, unemployment among the male population – is not obtrusively, but authentically present.
What I did find though was that the characters never seemed real or authentic to me. The voice of Michael being that of an eleven year old boy, although excellently done with regard to the portrayal of characters in his surroundings, lacked a sense of overall physicality of the island, which would have added to the story (only the fact that Scottish islands are relentlessly cold and wet really came across.)
More significantly, consistency was sacrificed in favour of plot and although I felt that Michael and his immediate family were carefully drawn, O’Donnell could never decided whether the vast cast of islanders was a population of censorious savages (socially speaking) or a community with a heart of gold. Having a feel for this is important in helping the reader sympathise with the decisions of the protagonists, and in the end I felt for the most part unmoved by the characters’ plight – save that of Michael’s father (Da), who through his love of his wife takes the brunt of suspicion that arises from the strange early events of the book.
There was a lot of violence and strong emotion and fighting, but the violence (child on child, adult on adult adult on child, you get the idea) tended to feel a bit cartoon like. Michael’s voice can be very funny, which is an attractive part of the read, breaking the tension effectively at times. I can see too that this is a coping and distancing mechanism used by Michael, and indeed used by many children in difficult sections in real life. However sometimes this really stopped me from feeling a real sense of palpable physical nervousness that I get on reading a really well done build up to a what-happens-next climax.
Having said all this, I did read it in one sitting and this book is the next to go on my “must give this to someone else and tell them to read it” list. Just look at it as pure entertainment rather than a deep statement on life and how it is.