They were so dark, surreal and monotone in comparison to her usually vibrant and playful style – Natalie K. Martin.
From reading the very first page of Natalie K. Martin’s latest novel, What Goes Down, I knew it was my kinda book. What struck me first were the sense-awakening, body-transporting descriptions that made me think I was savouring the warm bread in the markets of the south of France; my mouth salivated. I could feel the warmth of the sun from Natalie’s imagery of golden rays of sunshine beating down on the main character, Seph. I knew the childhood memories that were etched out of the wood in every corner of the old cottage that Seph had forever called her home, where her loving parents Laurel and Tony lived and thrived in their marriage.
Seph escaped to her friend’s place in the south of France for some much needed TLC after a horrific panic attack had left her breathless and passed out in the middle of Bicester Village. She is an artist, living in London, with an exhibition coming up alongside the debts that luxurious London brings. Once she is back, that niggle of blackness begins to creep up behind her mind, only to be released into a rage of shock once she opens her email inbox.
The raw emotion that unleashes itself causes a paralysis of an identity crisis, one that she didn’t think she would have in her adult age of 27. The people she called family, whom she trusted and turned to for absolutely everything are people she can no longer look straight in the eye and believe. This catalyst of a moment begins the downward spiral that Seph finds herself falling into, every bit as black as the rabbit hole.
Seph is a complicated character. At the beginning of her story, she is nothing other than stressed but once something from the past rushes her, her world spins on a different axis altogether. She starts to wonder who she is, pushing all this new emotion into her art which takes her away from her long term partner, Ben, both physically and emotionally. He begins to look at her funny; she snaps at him for no reason; then she wants to bed him like there’s no tomorrow. It’s suddenly one extreme or the other for Seph and with no middle ground, she begins to become exhilarated or exhausted.
In between Seph’s story, we are spun back in time to the late eighties when Laurel was bright-eyed, platinum blonde Laurie, struggling against her parents want for her to be the first to go to university with her desire to learn as much as she possibly can about photography. The differences in time and characters is an incredible aspect to What Goes Down. Not only does it allow us to hear about Laurel’s life before parenthood and how she fell in love with her first love and never fully got over him, despite all their struggles, it also reminds us that our parents did have a life before us, and they could have been completely different people to the parents we know and love them as.
A crucial character, and possibly my favourite, is George. He is Laurie’s crazy, cool older brother who works in a hair salon and listens to fab radio stations all day long whilst making women look their absolute best for the weekend. He’s also her best friend, someone she relies on and loves completely just as Seph does growing up. He is the kind of character that, although he’s not always in the chapters (or even the focal point of the story) he’s like a ghost on the edge of each word on the page, always there moulding his family’s life in some way or other, always for the greater good.
Entwined throughout the novel is mental health. It is still something that is not talked about enough; with World Mental Health Day coming up on 10th October, in just two days, this story couldn’t be released at a more accurate time. The highs and lows that Seph experiences is something that her father took years to control, not even knowing what exactly he was dealing with at such a bleak and dark time in his life. Seph’s emotions get the better of her: one day she is maxing out the credit card, the next she is sobbing naked in her shower. Again, the descriptions that Natalie so articulately creates sucks you right along with Seph and you feel every pain, regret and turmoil alongside the elation and highs. What Goes Down is especially emotional in the final chapters; I, personally, cried because I could see what was happening in my mind’s eye and it is something that reflects millions of people throughout the world. This story is crucial – although a piece of fiction – to explaining something that not everyone fully understands.
Natalie has done an incredible job of creating a story which is both realistic, raw and inspiring. Through Seph and Laurel’s stories, the bond between mother and daughter is adamant, and, on a personal level, Natalie has inspired me to put pen to paper again.
What are your thoughts of mental health in fiction? Do you think it’s a crucial element to some people’s stories?
Love, Faye x
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What Goes Down is out now in paperback and kindle editions.