Sometimes you have to start reading a novel before you realise what makes it unconventional. Then there are books like little scratch that just look unconventional on the page. To see what I mean, look at the sample page in this review at the Glasgow Guardian.
The words scattered across the pages of little scratch are the thoughts of a young woman who works as an assistant at a news organisation. The novel takes place over one day: the narrator gets up, goes to work, spends the evening with her partner (“my him”) at a poetry reading. Ordinary enough, perhaps – but the telling makes all the difference.
Rebecca Watson’s writing places the reader right into the ebb and flow of her protagonist’s thoughts. A conventional paragraph may give way to two columns of prose (external dialogue on one side, internal thoughts on the other), to a swarm of words, to any number of patterns… This woman’s mind is restless, and we feel that.
Among all the protagonist’s thoughts, it’s clear that she dwells on something in particular – the itch that she longs to scratch. There are glimpses of this in the way she’s wary around men: for example, in one scene the woman is walking to the train station, and the prose becomes a grid of the word ‘walking’, apart from a few words that reflect what she sees from the corner of her eyes. A man is driving up: “is he going to say something?” There is a real sense of dread here.
The woman’s inner turmoil grows throughout the day. She wants to be able to say out loud what happened to her, but she can only say it internally. Watson keeps the tension up to the very end. little scratch is her debut novel, and it leaves me intrigued to see where she goes next.
Published by Faber & Faber.
Click here to read my other reviews of the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.