Book Review of “Smash All the Windows” by Jane Davis
Goodreads Synopsis: “For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances. Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unraveled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives. If only it were that simple.”
It certainly is a bit of a coincidence for me that Jane Davis’ latest novel focuses on families of victims of a contemporary, fictional disaster, when the last book I read (On a Cold Dark Sea by Elizabeth Blackwell) also had to do with survivors, albeit of a historically true disaster. Both books look back at their respective tragedies through the perspective of time, and both dredge up the painful memories of the events. Also, in both books, one character finds themselves in the unique situation where they can connect the dots, as well as others involved. However, that is where almost all the similarities between them seem to end. In Blackwell’s case, it is the survivor journalist who pulls the other survivors together. In Davis’ novel, we have the husband of one of the victims who has been creating art out of the pain the incident caused him. When he is given the opportunity to show his works at the Tate Modern, he decides to offer the loved ones of others who died to contribute to his exhibition. Into this mix Davis also brings two people who were students reading the law at the time of the accident, who, despite having no real personal connection to the incident, end up helping prove that the victims were not to blame.
Through this, Davis builds up not only portraits of some of those who died, but also what the lives of these people are like because these loved ones are now gone. But it is more than just this, really. Davis also uses the exhibition and the artist to connect these people together in a way that goes far beyond their mutual losses and opening their old wounds. You could almost say that these characters end up with very special type of camaraderie that doesn’t require them to be in constant contact with each other; call it an invisible bond, if you will. That the two students get woven into this fabric, only amplifies the concept that I think Davis was aiming at, that being that in situations like this, the victims of such a tragedy aren’t just the dead, or the injured, or even those who were families or even friends of the victims. The art exhibition, of course, is what really pulls this all together in this; not only are the people with direct contact with those who died effected by such an incident, but also those who have no connection to either the event or the people involved. This is an extremely powerful message, particularly today, when we are witness to so many tragic events every day.
With this, Davis brings again her deceptively simple language that captures the reader from the very start. Davis has a way of subtly developing each character, which ultimately endear them to her readers. This is enhanced by the story line, which Davis builds through mostly chronological chapters, interspersed with scenes of relevant characters from just prior to the accident, which help increase the tension that builds until the opening of the exhibition. Aside from this, I have to say that Davis not only builds her plot with almost surgical precision, but she also seems to have an extensive grasp on highly effective modern art and how it can have an emotional impact on an audience. I can tell you right now that if there actually was a real exhibit at the Tate Modern like the one Davis invents for us here, I’d make sure to go see it the next time I visited London, because although it sounds frightening, it also sounds amazing.
There were, however, two things that didn’t sit completely right with me in this book. One of these was the death of the London Underground employee who was the supervisor at the station where the incident occurred. Davis never tells us exactly what happened to her, leaving it to our imaginations, but I think that while we can probably assume how she died, I don’t think Davis gives us enough about her to totally understand it (sorry to be cryptic, but anything more would include a spoiler). The other aspect was regarding the victim who remained unidentified. While Davis gives us a poignant scene about this unknown person at the opening of the exhibition, I think it might have been even more emotional for the reader if she had added a few more references to him throughout the book, even while she kept his identity a mystery. Despite this, Davis still had me welling up a couple of times and finally evoking real tears near the conclusion of the book. For all of this, I certainly highly recommend this book and I think it deserves a very healthy four and a half stars out of five (or maybe, a touch more – 4.75 stars).
Rossdale Print Productions released “Smash all the Windows” by Jane Davis on April 12, 2018. This book is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Kobo Books, iTunes, The Book Depository (with free worldwide delivery), as well as new or used from Alibris. I would like to thank Jane Davis for sending me an ARC of her novel in exchange for a fair review.