The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Rarely Pure And Never Simple (Review: Entangled; C. Clarke)

Cat Clarke
Quercus 2010

At first glance, the plot of Entangled appears at first to be one kind of story before quietly changing into something completely different. When we meet protagonist Grace, she has been saved from killing herself by an attractively aloof stranger, Ethan. The thing is, Ethan seems to have saved her her. As kidnappings go it hasn't been too traumatic. He's provided her with a clean, white room, regular servings of her favourite food and some paper and pens on which to write. Ethan doesn't say much bar the odd mysterious utterance and so eventually, out of boredom, Grace begins to write down her recent memories which slowly thread together to become the story within the story of her kidnap.

Grace is something else. Not everyone is going to like her – I'm not entirely sure that I did. On one hand she's a young woman: funny, strong and devil-may-care but on the other she is a child floundering in a sea of grief and neglectful parenting, leaning hugely on her best friend and boyfriend who struggle to stop her from drowning. Of Grace's many issues, the most prevalent is her desire to self harm and as the story progresses she cuts deeper and deeper. I had a close friend who self-harmed and Grace's behaviour signaled to me a spiraling out of control that was all too familiar. I found it uncomfortable and upsetting to read. Equally, as with my friend, I found it utterly infuriating. Grace is intelligent and pretty, with her whole life in front of her but she cannot see past her present. I found myself getting angry and frustrated with her depression and denial, not to mention the self-absorption that so often comes with both. Grace is a very real character and, love her or loathe her, it is impossible not to feel her pain.

Sal, Nat and Ethan make up almost the rest of Entangled's small cast of characters. I liked Sal a lot. I could identify with her worry over Grace, with her fear and with her confusion over how to deal with the issue. At the same age as Grace, she has no idea how to help her friend but clearly cares greatly for her. Struggling to get over her own recent trauma, I understood why Sal might lash out at Grace and certainly why she might not want to tell her the details of the event. Towards the end of the book I could, again, understand how Sal ended up where she did. She's not perfect, despite what Grace may think, and finds herself clinging to the nearest life raft in Grace's storm.

Nat is a character who was less clear to me. While he seems perfectly nice, caring and thoughtful his motivations become muddier as the book progresses. However, he is nothing if not a realistic portrayal of a young man caught up in a difficult situation. Like Sal, he cares for Grace but is ill-equipped to really help her and flounders along in her wake slowly but surely making her situation more and more precarious. Ethan is a complete enigma and it's hard to talk too much about him without spoiling the over all story. The scenes in which he and Grace are together are some of the most powerful in the book and, as their situation becomes increasingly bizarre, also some of the most moving. Most importantly, Ethan allows Grace to view her situation (both past and present) objectively for perhaps the first time in her life.

Entangled, while gripping, is not a comfortable read. Grace's life is a train-wreck waiting to happen and while she cannot see it herself, readers will recognise instantly the inexorably slope towards disaster. This crashing inevitability is Entangled's main strength, the author using it to create a suffocating atmosphere of inescapable sadness. This title isn't always comfortable to read but it is an acute and searing account of a breakdown on many levels, be it familial, friendship or mental. It attacks familiar issues with an honesty and bluntness that is refreshing, frightening and certainly worth reading. More than anything Entangled is about seeing yourself as others see you and seeing them as they see themselves for often the most important truths are the ones we intentionally blind ourselves to. With this debut Cat Clarke has cemented herself as one to watch on the YA scene. Brilliant stuff.

Entangled is released on 6th January 2011. Thank you to Quercus for sending me this title to review.


Nomes said…
oooh -this sounds really different and captivating! it's coming out in Australia too! (in march so a few months to go)

thanks for the review!
I'm convinced. Definitely going to keep a lookout for this one in January. Also, love the cover!
Anonymous said…
Friendly reminder - best way to support Cat and her AMAZING book is to head into your local bookstore now and harass them to get it in. Teenage fiction is the hardest of all genres to sell to bookshops, they are chock full of vampire lit, so do not always take a chance on new authors. I have read Entangled, it was BRILLIANT. Get nagging today!!!
Wow - for some or other reason, when I read the synopsis of this book (which drew me in from the start), I assumed I knew what the book was going to be out. Reading your review has thrown my initial preconceptions completely out of the window (Just goes to show how bad it is having preconceived notions about what a book is and what it isn't).

I really enjoyed reading your review - which has now only served to make me want to read this even more and have to say that I'm incredibly intrigued by Grace. I can't wait for this one. Fantastic review Sya!
Anonymous said…
I've read the book and completely agree with you, but one thing I cant work out was...who is Ethan, I mean I've tried to put the pieces together but I just cant get it :(
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