It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the Melissa of the title dies at the beginning of the book – everything that follows is a result of this tragic occurrence. As she does so, all her neighbours experience a musical hallucination – most find it beautiful if perplexing, only a few dislike it.
The novel is apparently based on a true story, though one I’ve not heard of, and the early part of the book reads as a factual account by scholars and media reports. Once the hallucination and its after effects are dealt with, then the novel is a straightforward third person narrative. For we’ve only just begun.
What happens next? What happens to a family when its youngest member dies? What happens to a community when you share an event but can’t explain it? These are the questions Taylor wishes to explore and the result is a frank, sometimes dreadfully sad, exploration of the devastation wrought by grief.
Taylor’s writing style did at times perplex me, I will admit. He is clearly a well-read man, with a well-researched book. A lot of that research makes its way quite obviously into the book. If you ever wanted to know how a disease like leukaemia can progress then you can find it here, and somehow the progress of the disease is told in a way that moves the story on. Perhaps less successful are the music references, and the passages about physics but I admire that they’re there at all – its not everyone who can sound knowledgeable and everyday about some of these things, even if I didn’t understand anything about them.
As you may expect, the characters are the strongest part of ‘Melissa.’ And rarely (in my reading experience) he writes women well. The two main female characters, Melissa’s mother and half-sister, were sympathetic yet complicated. Even the tabloid ‘escort’ across the road, while not a particularly sympathetic character, did have a distinctive voice that sounded authentic. Melissa’s father, Harry, was perhaps the best character in that his pain and total confusion and denial was heartbreaking to witness.
So to sum up, I thought Melissa was an intriguing, at times heartbreaking, read. It was at times scathing about modern life, at times brave about the human condition. It’s well worth a read, enjoyable and engaging.
Melissa by Jonathan Taylor is available to buy now from Salt Publishing, priced £8.99
*Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Melissa by Jonathan Taylor to review. This review is also on Goodreads.