erasing clouds

Book Review: Zoe Strachan's Spin Cycle

by anna battista

In 2003 Zoe Strachan's debut novel Negative Space (Picador, 2002) won the Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book award. Its plot revolved around a main character living in Glasgow and trying to cope with the death of her younger brother. For her second novel, Strachan has gone back to Glasgow, but rather than having only one main character, she has chosen to have three. Spin Cycle is the story of three women Agnes, Siobhan and Myrna working in a dingy launderette. Agnes is the oldest and wiser, though she's fond of crime stories told by tabloids in a sensationalist style, a taste she seems to have acquired after the murder of her glamorous cousin Vina, found strangled outside Glasgow Barrowland ballroom when Agnes was fifteen. Siobhan is shy and often lost in her own world where images directly taken from the photography books she collects mingle with her erotic fantasies about one customer in particular, a mysterious girl with old-fashioned underwear. Myrna lives for the weekend, for drugs, clubs and shopping and, being skint, she soon starts working for an escort agency. The three characters don't seem to have much in common, but various events and a shocking conclusion will change their lives and the way they relate to each other, bringing them together, though for a short time.

The book is divided in short chapters focusing on the three main characters, on their lives and obsessions, and in short interludes with simple titles such as "9.10 am - Esther" or "11.05 am - Darren", which are basically flashes and insights on customers' lives. The plot of the novel is original and its style makes it an easy read. From the very beginning of the novel, Strachan reduces language to the minimum, fragmenting long sentences, eliminating words which might make the narration too long or too boring. Describing one of her character's journey to the launderette, Strachan writes "Agnes is on the tube; so much quicker than the bus. With her is Vina. In memory only but not less real for that. Agnes thinks of a summer distantly past. The warmest August in years, but muddy, not a pleasant heat."

Not all the readers who liked Negative Space will probably enjoy Spin Cycle, most probably because of its fragmented style and broken sentences. Zoe Strachan's new book would probably become more appealing if turned into a film for TV: indeed, in the plot, characters, descriptions and style of Spin Cycle there are all the good ingredients for a compelling script.


Issue 27, October 2004

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