The Girl at the End of the Road
K. A. Hitchens
Instant Apostle £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9
THIS is a first novel by newcomer K. A. Hitchens. Set in rural Suffolk, it tells the story of Vincent, a high-flying City financier who has crashed and burned owing to the recession. When his trophy girlfriend chucks him out, he reluctantly returns home, to live in his childhood bedroom.
An only child, he struggles with the constraints of his parents’ parochial lifestyle, and finds himself all at sea. Until, that is, he meets a childhood friend, Sarah, who now has a job in the local library. Dowdy Sarah is totally unlike any of the people he counted as friends back in London, and she challenges him and his preconceptions about what is normal.
There is plenty that is good about this book. I don’t want to give too much away, but the author takes some challenging subjects — loneliness, ageing, consumerism, and special needs — and handles them with sensitivity. It is apparent very early on (to everyone but Vincent, that is) that Sarah is on the autistic spectrum; and it is certainly unusual to have a female Asperger’s character in fiction, partly, no doubt, because autism is so much more common in men. But in Sarah, the author creates a compelling and sympathetic character, who gets under the skin. I was relieved that the author resisted the temptation to provide any over-romantic or easy answers about Sarah’s future at the end.
There are also some touching moments between father and son, as they struggle to keep from Vincent’s mother the fact that his father’s health is failing, and he is being tested for serious illness. And there are entertaining descriptions of the challenges of teaching someone to drive.
From my point of view, however, the weakness of the novel is that Vincent is such an utterly unappealing and one-dimensional character. As a result, it is hard for the reader to care very much about him. He is self-centred and arrogant, and his transformation at the very end is too sudden to be altogether convincing. In general, the book suffers from a lack of subtlety, with dialogue that is often clunky and laboured.
Sarah Meyrick is the Director of Communications for the diocese of Oxford