Go­ing down...

Call Billy 07899 232007 BY SAM MCCOLL McEl­lisons, £8.99

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books Reviews - By Alas­tair Mabbott

SET en­tirely in Edinburgh’s well-todo New Town, Sam McColl’s self-pub­lished de­but novel takes its read­ers to some quite har­row­ing places in its de­pic­tion of a fam­ily in melt­down.

The Gille­spies – Rachel, Andrew and their chil­dren Abi, 15, and Callum, 7 – are the ca­su­al­ties of a per­fect storm of cir­cum­stances that will test their strength as a unit to its limit.

They have only re­cently moved to Edinburgh, af­ter Rachel suf­fered a break­down which con­vinced them to make a fresh start, but their hopes for a qui­eter life quickly go awry. In the af­ter­math of a dis­as­trous party, 40-year-old Bill Nighy looka­like Andrew re­veals to Rachel’s mother that her daugh­ter’s con­fronta­tional be­hav­iour is the re­sult of be­ing sex­u­ally abused by her fa­ther when she was a child.

This bomb­shell con­cern­ing her late hus­band brings on a se­ries of mini-strokes that ren­der the old lady in­ca­pable of look­ing af­ter her­self.

Rachel, mean­while, has en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Edinburgh as a ma­ture stu­dent and em­barks on an af­fair with fel­low stu­dent Ryan, a heavy drug user who is keen to avoid shady char­ac­ters from his past, although it’s clear he can’t stay off their radar for­ever.

The threat of se­ri­ous vi­o­lence from drug deal­ers forms a men­ac­ing back­drop to the Gille­spies’ do­mes­tic trou­bles, rais­ing the stakes of Rachel’s in­creas­ing depen­dence on her un­re­li­able new lover and the co­pi­ous in­take of drink and drugs which is steadily blot­ting out the re­al­i­ties of her sit­u­a­tion.

With Rachel hav­ing left the mar­i­tal home, Andrew is try­ing to keep the fam­ily ship afloat, re­as­sur­ing Abi and Callum that ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to work out. In re­al­ity, he’s not cop­ing well at all.

Callum, who has been flour­ish­ing at his cut­ting-edge school, is start­ing to mis­be­have, and there’s a wor­ry­ing sit­u­a­tion at Andrew’s work, where some sleight of hand in­volv­ing soil sam­ples looks likely to have se­ri­ous le­gal reper­cus­sions. Un­der this kind of stress, even a mild-man­nered, well-mean­ing chap like Andrew can make bad, even cruel, de­ci­sions.

While older char­ac­ters like

Andrew and Ryan can, and do, wist­fully hark back to their child­hoods to ac­count for how they turned out, Abi and Callum are too young to have that kind of per­spec­tive.

Abi’s trau­matic childhood is hap­pen­ing right now, as she vac­il­lates be­tween Andrew’s list­less at­tempts to keep his kids’ spir­its up and the “roll Mummy a joint” en­vi­ron­ment of Rachel’s new flat, and her an­guish feels par­tic­u­larly raw and im­me­di­ate.

This isn’t an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel, but it has been shaped and in­formed by McColl’s ex­pe­ri­ences of grow­ing up in a vi­o­lent house­hold, be­ing or­phaned and un­der­go­ing years of ther­apy to un­learn old cop­ing strate­gies. Con­se­quently, she shows a rare in­sight into the dy­nam­ics of a dys­func­tional house­hold and, cru­cially, the sense of prox­im­ity to both psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal harm.

Writ­ten with a great deal of emo­tional in­tel­li­gence and hon­esty, Call Billy is a novel that doesn’t pull its punches, in which ev­ery de­vel­op­ment pro­ceeds from the last with a hor­ri­ble, gut-punch­ing in­evitabil­ity.

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