Two titans and you are just a child caught between them, out of your depth – Sarah Maria Griffin.
This book was a first of many things for me. It was the first book that I read in second person prose. It was the first book that delved into the world of tarot, and it was the first book that felt like the thin veil between this world and other could be all the more real.
Other Words For Smoke is a book that transcends the pages it is written on. The feelings of torment, passion and magic are alive as if you could touch every emotion the characters feel. It is the lyrical words that do that; they take you to this alternative place where things and monsters live, and you almost wish that Sweet James and Bobby Dear are real… even if they are the monsters that haunt nightmares.
It is summer. Twins Mae and Rossa are left with their Great Aunt Rita, locked away in the countryside, far away from the city and a sense of normality. The quiet house at the end of the street warps and changes in ripples and blips. The twins do not know what lies ahead, and it isn’t only silent magic that unsettles them. Bevan is something that unsettles them, during different summers – at different times in their lives. Sweet James is something that enthrals Bevan, feeds her with want and desire, as long as she feeds him with something else. It is a vicious circle that keeps churning beyond the long summer days.
I don’t want to say any more than that in terms of plot. It is a story like no other than I have ever read. It is fresh and new, a complete work of literary magic which makes the ends of your hair stand on edge, makes your skin tingle and makes you wonder what if? what if? what if? The words are crafted like that of a witch’s spell, musical and poetic, but with a darkness that engulfs you whole, draws you in until you cannot be satiated any longer. The author, Sarah Maria Griffin, is extremely clever in her methods. Her writing is unforgettable, unstoppable and incredibly unique. She makes you a part of the book through Bevan’s eyes. It is almost like Sweet James has his claws hooked into you as you read it, like it is you who are drunk from the other worlds just beyond the door, as though you are the one who is terrible and naïve, on a tightrope of good and bad.
Whilst the strangeness of the book captures you, the harsh realities of first loves and broken families follow. Mae’s first love is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. She feels sick, lonely, tongue-twisted. Bevan is the first girl she ever loves, and she does not understand why Bevan is so callous with her feelings, why she won’t so much as look at her. That is the first summer. Three years later is Rossa’s turn. That is during the summers. In between, at home, it is a completely different house of terror. It is a broken home, one that neither twin can bear to talk about with anyone, let alone each other, and so they wither in fits of anger and frustration, until Rita’s house is a welcome bliss… despite all of its horrors.
Sarah Griffin’s writing is not just beautiful and dark; it is also reality within the dreamlike words. She writes about the darkness of Ireland’s past; what would happen to young girls who were different, who were troublesome. She writes the women as powerful, with their own minds, tortured by their truths and their lies, what they have seen and done. She writes this, I think, for the women of Ireland, for the wise women that have risen from young naïve girls, for the witches who pray for a better life for themselves and their daughters, for the women who love unconditionally despite the pain it causes them. Best of all, there is a hope in this book, that no amount of dark secrets can fully take over your life, that there is some happiness, no matter your past.
Twisted and enchanting, Other Words For Smoke is a book that is devilish and sweet, with something sinister waiting to capture you in its net.
Love, Faye xo