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Deep Down: the 'intimate, emotional and witty' 2023 debut you don't want to miss

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We learn, for instance, that when Queen Elizabeth II died, the state trumpeters were on a plane to Canada and the bearer party was in Iraq. Anyone who knew of Imogen West-Knights as one half of the pitch-perfect satirical Twitter account Bougie London Literary Woman might have made assumptions about how her first novel would look: perhaps a smart, witty comedy skewering pretensions in the world of media or publishing. Deep Down begins as Billie, a twentysomething Londoner, and her older brother Tom, a “failed actor” living in Paris, face unexpected news. Billie and Tom are not necessarily likeable characters, but as the story progresses with flashbacks to their childhood we start to understand why they’re a bit messed up and have such a tense relationship - they’ve both processed their father’s behaviour in a different way and are therefore handling his loss differently too.

The passage about how they used to try and make each other laugh in church particularly brought me back. The climax of the book is a visit by Tom and Billie, along with Tom’s workmates, to the Paris catacombs, in a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor for the hero’s descent to the underworld to confront the monster.Billie and her mother, Lisa, steadfastly refer to their father’s “illness”; it is left to Tom to voice the unsayable: “Maybe the only thing that was actually wrong with him was that he was a bad person. They are repairing the scenery, rebuilding the set on which their performance of normal life takes place. Deep Down is a wonderfully astute and often hilarious look at sibling relationships, intimacy and family repression. Tom, the elder, is working there in an English-themed pub, avoiding the failure of his acting career (“not knowing what he is doing in Paris feels more productive than not knowing at home”).

Woozily wandering between the arrondissements, the siblings dodge tourists and tiptoe around each other’s feelings, awaiting news of funeral plans.

What initially seem to be the hallmarks of any repressed family – an inability to discuss death; tensions between divorced parents; a repeated insistence that everyone is ‘fine’ – become, as the novel unfolds, something far more disconcerting. Such crispness could have given the narrative a slightly sneering edge, but West-Knights’ quiet focus on the vulnerability of her lead characters grounds the novel in a more humane place.

Secondly, I think that the story could have used additional layers on top of the grief and resentment they were experiencing in the present day.

Deep Down is something altogether darker; an examination of the legacy of abuse shot through with sharp wit and compassion.

This book has opened my eyes and made me realise to be grateful for who you have and what you have got.If you like stories of family, friendship and the power of grief I certainly wouldn’t be saying no this novel! One of the remarkable things about Deep Down is how finely attuned it is to the way grief is intimately tangled up with ridiculousness.

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