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by Lisa Brown

Rating: *****

In Dappled, we meet Jane O’Connor who develops vitiligo, a skin condition, in her teens. By the time she is in her late-twenties, she is proficient in camouflaging herself, physically and mentally, to avoid notice and comment. Through unburdening to her housemate, Annika, we hear Jane’s story; from her life with a creative yet mentally unstable Mother to Daniel, the boy who gave her everything and who she left in order to save…

Dappled is a beautifully written, original and affecting novel. The prologue is immediately engaging but from the very first paragraph it is clear that as polished and artistic Colleen, Jane’s Mother, is, there are serious issues simmering beneath the surface which will have consequences. Ms Brown builds the tension by the matter-of-fact way that young Jane deals with and accepts Colleen whose behaviour pervades and ultimately damages both their lives. There are three strands to this novel; Jane’s relationship with Colleen, Jane’s relationship with Daniel and her relationship with vitiligo all of which weave together. Following the prologue, we jump forward a couple of decades and met Jane working as an Occupational Therapist, drinking far too much and engaging in inebriated one-night stands. The scenes in Accessibility Solutions are incredibly well-observed and the reader is made subtly aware that Jane is clearly under strain by the comments of others. The drunken night with Ryan is unflinching; raw, painful and personal. That chapter succinctly conveys Jane’s despair, fragility and self-loathing at this time. It’s a horrifically good piece of writing.

Then we have her teenage relationship with Daniel. So poignant and achingly beautiful in the description of the profound intensity of young love. Both characters develop believably within their relationship; the writing is assured, absorbing and heart-breaking. Daniel and his family bring Jane the confidence, stability and warmth she craves, needs and deserves especially as her vitiligo begins to take hold and Colleen’s behaviour becomes more erratic and dangerous. The narrative builds with this creeping sense of cold dread each time Jane interacts with her Mum. The way in which this is handled by Ms Brown is a testimony to anyone who has dealt with a mentally ill parent; you palpably feel Jane’s guilt, fear, desperation and her overwhelming sense of protection towards Colleen always underlined by the simple fact that Colleen is her Mother and she loves her.

Despite this, Dappled, is an uplifting novel; Jane’s relationship with vitiligo is informative and also speaks to anyone with any form of physical condition; it’s empathetic yet never indulgent. However, there were a few occasions I thought the book was too subjective and I was a little unsure if the non-linear structure surrounding the main narrative was the best approach but that’s a personal view and it did amplify the fractured often distorted nature of Jane’s relationships and mental state.

Dappled is a deeply moving, inspiring and superbly written book that I shall remember for some time. Highly recommended.

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