Review: Eat Sleep Rage Repeat is compulsive and compelling storytelling
As anyone who read Rebecca Roberts’ Wales Book of the Year shortlisted novel Helynt will know, here is an author who is very adept at conjuring up feisty female characters, the sort who unbendingly square up to life’s challenges and do their level best to surmount them. In Helynt it was a Rhyl teenager who found herself palping the seedy underbelly of life, even as she confronted the truth about her biological father.
In her latest, Eat Sleep Rage Repeat the Prestatyn-based Roberts’ heroine is Caitlin Bennett, a teacher under siege in her own classroom, where her disinterested charges don’t give two hoots about learning Welsh. The repetitive trials of her days are neatly encapsulated in the sloganistic title of the book, with that suppurating rage constantly simmering under the surface. As if that wasn’t enough there’s the misogynist head of school, Geoffrey, her deeply depressed mother to care for and her unparented sister to add to her burdens.
The fact that Caitlin – whose own upbringing had been as challenging as its gets – has returned to her own school to teach is an extra difficulty, as her anger management issues are still like an open sore in some people’s memories, including fellow staff members. But she so wants to enact change in both her own life and the lives of others – standing up to classroom bullies and trying to be a role model to anyone who cares a jot – is what she’s all about. Luckily she has a bit of back up, as the head of Welsh wants to groom her for her own job and feels that together they can turn the school around despite the multiplicity of challenges in its neglected rooms and corridors. Even getting people seated in the right place in her GCSE class is not without its difficulty:
I’ve tried every seating combination under the sun to keep Alicia and Nia from talking to one another constantly, and I’ve yet to find one that works. Put them at opposite ends of the classroom and they just shout at one another. Alicia has completely turned her back on me so that I can see the tattooed fairy peeping over the top of her thong.
‘D’you hear about Demi having an abortion?’ she shouts to her mate. ‘I was oh-my-god-that-is-so-not-true but yeah, he told her to get rid ‘cause he didn’t believe it was his kid.’
‘But he would say that though, wouldn’t he, ‘cause he’s a total man slag.’
Even in the face of such interruptions Caitlin valiantly carries on trying to teach them ansoddeiriau, remembering how her own language skills got her this very job. It could be the same for one of her unruly charges who seem to only know one adjective and that is “confrontational.” She soldiers on.
But Caitlin’s balloon of optimism is well and truly burst when one of the kids in her class, Tom, the wayward son of a local drug dealer, accuses her of giving him a black eye and has five “witnesses” to back him up. Which leads to time in a police cell and a court case for Caitlin, who also has to deal with the latest suicide attempt by her mother even as she tries to protest her innocence. As if that wasn’t enough she has to cope with recurring dreams, ones in which she’s buried alive and looking after sister Dani and keeping her vodka consumption down. Caitlin has had a very difficult past and it lurks in corners of her present life and psyche, waiting to unsettle or pounce.
You’ll have got the sense already that there’s an awful lot going on in this book. I started reading it late at night and then found it to be one of those single-sitting, I-have-to-know-what-happens-next sort of novels, such is the compulsive and compelling power of the story telling. I think it works so well because the reader is so very much on Caitlin’s side right from the off: you want the best for her even though that’s a scarce commodity in a life of seemingly seamless trial, test and tribulation.
When she meets a man who works on the offshore wind farms of Liverpool Bay you truly don’t want her to get hurt. Fortuitously Chris turns out to be as solid as a rock, even when he’s confronted with an almighty moral dilemma after a fatal hit-and-run in which Caitlin is involved.
This is such a page turner that you feel you need one of those special finger thimbles they use when counting paper money in the bank to keep them turning. Caitlin is a breathingly believable figure just as Rebecca Roberts is an authentic authorial voice, conjuring up a tale of a young woman facing her demons and her ignorant, violent father as if they all belong to the same ugly, vengeful gang. And thankfully having a moment of triumph and a glimpse of happiness, albeit very, very briefly.
Eat Sleep Rage Repeat is published by Gomer@Lolfa and you can buy a copy here..