Review: The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, by Caroline Smailes
In The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, Greek mythology comes to a bleak town in northern England and the result is one of the quirkiest books I’ve read in ages.
After a traumatic incident when a photograph of his cock ends up on Facebook, isolated teenager Arthur stumbles into The Oracle, a derelict Edwardian bathhouse, desperate to escape the school bullies and his shitty life. There he glimpses Delphina, a beautiful young girl swimming naked in the Males 1st Class pool and is completely captivated.
The Oracle is home to a cast of bizarre and seemingly supernatural characters, but Arthur only has eyes for Delphina and fails to understand the dangerous otherness of the world he has stumbled into.
This story works on many levels; on the surface it’s a very modern fairy tale about a teenage boy struggling to fit in. On a deeper level, it’s examines the complexity of relationships in the modern world and how we all need a little magic in our lives.
Arthur lives with his dad, who has barely moved from the sofa since his wife left him for someone she ‘reconnected’ with on Facebook; instead he eats crisps all day and communicates with his son via grunts. Arthur is left to fend for himself and only begins to find meaning in his life when he falls for Delphina, a water nymph with tragic origins.
Throughout the story a common image is Facebook, which almost seems to be a metaphor for everything that is wrong with modern society. The social network has pervaded all key relationships and becomes a way of measuring the value of your existence. Despite the unfortunate photo, Arthur still has to check his profile and see what his classmates are saying about him. And in her naivety, Delphina simply wants Arthur to be happy, even if that means him leaving her for a girl who can exist outside the swimming pool and has her own Facebook page.
The Oracle is a fantastic location for this story and it is vividly brought to life in all its decrepit glory. Once a glorious Edwardian bathhouse, it has always been home to a kind of magic; for years people would come to be healed. But The Oracle has also witnessed some horrific acts that have left scars on the crumbling building. It’s all too easy to imagine it as the setting for a play, particularly as large chunks of the story are told in script format. With the focus on the dialogue between characters, the reader is drawn into the otherness of the narrative.
The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an edgy and dark read that works in so many different ways, whether or not you have a working knowledge of Greek mythology.