Book Review: Unravel by Calia Read

Unravel by Calia Read - Header

Part of me wants to write that it is strange, macabre almost, that suffering from my own mental health issues that I should seek out books that relate to mental health. Aside from my natural fascination with psychology and the longing to answer the question “why?”, part of me wonders whether, subconsciously, it is an attempt to seek reassurance that my own life will get better. That recovery is possible.

The problem is though, I’m just picking books by their titles. Refining lists: Books -> Psychology -> Thrillers and seeing what titles jump out, what star ratings suggest that a novel is worth reading. I’m not looking for anything in particular, and that is how and why I ended up reading Unravel by Calia Read. It simply fitted the filter.

Psychiatric Centre - Unravel by Calia Read

As I read the opening few pages there was actual a pang of dread in my mind. The story is set within the institutionalised world of inpatient care. A world that is one step beyond my own experiences, a world that I perceive to be “more broken” than me. It made me feel uncomfortable because it made me feel rather than a shared compassion, scared. It was painting, clearly, the world one step beyond my own, a world my mind may lead to if things implode, deteriorate or destroy me any more than they already have.

The novel centres around the character Naomi and teases you with her life, mixing the events that lead to her stay in the Fairfax Institution with her treatment and real time thoughts. Normally, I don’t like books that jump around like that, moving backwards and forwards through time. I prefer a story that follows a structured narrative. But because it’s all told from the point of view of one person, because it feels like it’s recounting her thoughts and only her thoughts, constantly staying within her field of vision, I found it easy to follow and easy to keep in mind. I never once got lost or confused as to who, or what, was going on.

Calia Read

This is also down in part to Calia Read and the way she writes. It feels like the dictation of an inner monologue and has the clarity of being one opinion. Words never felt obtuse, dated or there purely to make a point. It reads like you talk, it mumbles when needed but always stays concise and real. There is the odd moment when the fact that she is American and so native to American-English would lead to the occasional phrase that felt of another country, but you read pass them without really noticing. The book constantly feels like it’s going forward. The action moving realistically and with the natural circadian rhythm of life. It’s clear to picture in your mind. You constantly walk one step behind the characters. Seeing, hearing and experiencing their world as though you are there.

My only slight complaint though about the writing style is that it felt feminine. That sounds horrendously sexist, but it’s not meant as anything more than a passion glance. Unravel just has a lightness to the language and the temperament that means you can tell comes from the fairer sex. That’s not to say that the book is bad, it’s not lacking anything but rather it never has the strength and aggression you’d expect from a male. It just isn’t blunt in the way a male would write. But like I said, the refinement and pastel nature to the world and descriptions, is purely an observational notice.

Sex Scenes - Unravel by Calia Read

Since I started really reading for pleasure, Unravel is the first time I’ve truly come across a sex scene. Well two actually. Graphically laid out: panting, sweating and thrusting it’s way into my mind. I’ve never had a problem with sex before, I’ve seen plenty of romantic encounters in movies, but there was something about having to read it on the page, produce the imagery in my head that left me feeling somehow uneasy. On both occasions, as I read through the pages, I almost wished they didn’t exist. That somehow, while important to the plot, I felt let down that a story about mental health, about giving me hope and belief in the search for recovery, was being spoilt by this unnecessary inclusion. I wasn’t a problem that they were having sex, I just didn’t want to sit and watch.

I want to say that I really enjoyed the book, but I don’t think I can. I loved reading it but it’s subject matter, mental health has a stigma that makes it feel wrong to really like it. The story is difficult and kept me guessing and I became lost into it’s world, succumbing to the simplicity of the story laid out in front of me. In fact, my vision narrowed so much until I simply skipped along with the day to day existence of purely the main character, that I was side swiped completely by the way it ended. It’s conclusion completely unforeseen, although with hindsight it was obvious. I think I truly did become too close to the insular world of the main character, constantly wanting the book to give me the answer, waiting for it to tell me why, than connect the dots it would point out.

Even stranger is that having now finished the book I actually miss it. I want to go back, I want to read on. I want to follow Naomi’s story and know how her life pans out and what happens to her. I read though the book feeling compassion and pain towards her and her troubles but now all the questions I shielded myself from have come out. But it’s left them unanswered. I keep searching my memory but the book, as both a credit and a hindrance, never expands its world, it kept things simple and focused. It never really went into any depth or tried to expand it’s horizon. It created an intriguing read that’s left me longing for more, but also frustrated that it didn’t provide what I now realise I wanted.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

Comments are closed.