Books I Didn’t Review:
The Thinking Tank
by Jae De Wylde
It’s about three or four years since I read The Thinking Tank, which was published in 2011. This is not a book I would normally have picked up. However, I happened to meet the author in Waterstone’s bookshop at a promotion and after a chat with her took home a copy of her novel.
The Thinking Tank is told unusually in present tense. Two narratives. Two timelines. The main story is told in first person by Sarah, who is trying to cope with a disintegrating relationship with her daughter as well as a debilitating illness. The condition she suffers from, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is painful, and Sarah needs a lot of help. The “tank” of the book’s title is a hyperbaric oxygen chamber [you can research it, for example, here https://www.hyperbaricoxygentherapy.org.uk ]
‘With the word “jealousy”, Stephen turns away with the suggestion of a shrug, but not before I catch the hint of a blush in the shaft of the day’s first light across his face. “There’s nothing to make up for. What were you to know and what were you to do back then.” ‘
If these things weren’t enough in her life, Sarah also has to sort out her relationship with Stephen and to deal with some very real family secrets in her own past. Jae de Wylde is fond of names beginning with ‘S’, you will discover. There is also Sue, a nurse, who has a critical role to play in the resolution of the plot.
‘If she could voice it, what [Sally] would say is simply this: “I am amazed that someone like Simon fancies me. If I object to what he is doing I am scared he’ll go off me, and then I’ll have missed my chance.” ‘
‘S’ s also features in the other story line. Sally is in her early teens and visits Father Christmas at her church. Santa is Simon, a young policeman, and when he kisses her, Sally is flattered and smitten. However, Simon is after only one thing and gradually seduces the innocent and naive girl to give him what he wants.
How the two timelines converge is a crucial element of the novel, though it doesn’t turn out quite in the way the reader might expect (this reader anyway). Both protagonists have to face crises, and how they come (came) through makes a very satisfactory story, with a very twisty ending.
Set mostly in Rutland (England’s smallest county, and in my ‘backyard’ so-to-speak), The Thinking Tank is beautifully written. There is some very nice descriptive prose, and likeable – and some not so likeable – characters. Jae De Wylde does not draw back from the theme of child sexual abuse and its consequences, but she handles it with sensitivity and understanding. Though the writing style is unusual with some examples of intrusive narrator thrown into the ‘Sally’ passages, it nevertheless flows smoothly throughout.