Published by Soft Skull on February 9, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
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A woman discovers something toxic at work in the isolated village where she is apprenticing as a pharmacist, in this fable-like novel about power, surveillance, prescriptions, and cures by a captivating debut voice.
On a remote mountaintop somewhere in Europe, accessible only by an ancient funicular, a small pharmacy sits on a square. As if attending confession, townspeople carry their ailments and worries through its doors, in search of healing, reassurance, and a witness to their bodies and their lives.
One day, a young woman arrives in the town to apprentice under its charismatic pharmacist, August Malone. She slowly begins to lose herself in her work, lulled by stories and secrets shared by customers and colleagues. But despite her best efforts to avoid thinking and feeling altogether, as her new boss rises to the position of mayor, she begins to realize that something sinister is going on around her.
The Weak Spot is a fable about our longing for cures, answers, and an audience--and the ways it will be exploited by those who silently hold power in our world.
I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Life in a provisional European town is brought to life in all it’s glory in this debut novel from Lucie Elven: ‘The Weak Spot’. An unnamed individual arrives in an unnamed village to begin their new role as assistant to the town’s influential pharmacist, August Malone. His role in administering drugs is just a small part of his life in the village as our narrator discovers. Soon they begin to inhabit Malone’s role more and more as he focuses on his run for Mayor. Slowly, the narrator takes on both Malone’s good and bad traits, but gradually they realise this affects their own personality and how they regard other residents. Can they pull themselves back and make their own mark on the village, or is the draw of Malone too strong?
From the beginning, the key factor of ‘The Weak Spot’ is the ambiguity throughout the narrative. The narrator is both nameless and genderless (I never found myself assigning a gender to the main character, and I’m sure that’s Elven’s intention), the village is never named, and only those who have a direct influence on the narrator’s actions are identified by name – others are simply referred to by their contribution to the area. While some may be infuriated by this ambiguity, I found it refreshing to not have everything laid out in front of me. Do we really need a character name to hear or understand their story? And this is the attitude out the main character carries with them as they listen to the customers’ issues at the beginning of the novel.
The narrators recalling of events and surroundings have a dreamlike quality to them adding to the questionable feeling you have about the story – this is a masterclass in the ‘unreliable narrator’ technique.a masterclass in the 'unreliable narrator' technique Click To Tweet One thing that contributes to this impression is the minimal use of direct speech within ‘The Weak Spot’. Most conversations are recalled through the narrator’s voice, in a conversational style. At first, it does feel jarring, but as you delve deeper into the mind of the narrator, Elven’s intentions become clearer. Little clues are left through the novel as to the direction it is taking and at first it may be hard to spot them. I did find myself re-reading passages for clarity, but that wasn’t the sole reason.
Lucie Elven has an incredible way with language that had me re-visiting and highlighting huge passages of text. Her ability to draw you into the surroundings with just a phrase was the highlight of ‘The Weak Spot’ for me. In a story full of cryptic and vague events, the tone of Elven’s descriptive prose adds a feeling of clarity. Strong, powerfully detailed sketches of location and especially weather, add another layer to the atmosphere of the novel:
“Some of the clouds looked like cracked earth , some like they were cultivating produce and had been tilled in irregular lines. A dramatic wisp rode like smoke past this layer, a superficial desperado.”
As the story progresses, it is clear that the waters of the narrator’s brain are muddying and Elven takes you with her as we delve further into this Lynchian adventure. What begins as a tale of quaint village life rapidly develops into something more sinister. Clever narrative tricks involve the reader in the mystery of the narrator and their metamorphosis into a contrasting persona.
As previously mentioned, the ambiguity within ‘The Weak Spot’ may deter some, but if you’re after an intelligent and thought-provoking read then this is the perfect novel. Am I 100% certain of the outcome of the tale? No way. While I did have ‘Oh, of course!’ moments I still have questions, but at only 172 pages, I have every intention of re-reading. This is a truly outstanding debut that will be on many ‘Recommended Reads’ lists for 2021.
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Published by Soft Skull Press on 9th February, you can order your copy here: