Oh my gosh, I haven’t a clue how to write this review. Thirteen (Beaumont; 2008) is a very complicated book. The bizzare thing is I’ve enjoyed the book, and also felt a repulsion to it at the same time, I’ve felt gripped by the story, and yet put the book down on several occasions not wanting to read anymore. This is a duality that I’ve never experienced with a book before. I’ve continued to read it so that I could write a review for the benefit of my own creative writing (reading for writers).
The first half of the book is written in a heady or perhaps overtly interlectual manner in which I didn’t have an emotion connection, but the suspense kept me going. By the second half of the novel I was connecting more emotionally and the narrative came to light.
I believe that the author was revealing his own story, his life experience, perhaps not the same circumstances, but the same feeling as the main character, Stephen, who also had the same initials. Beaumont was definitely writing ‘what he knew’. He was a taxi driver before taking up writing as is Stephen.
The story begins with Stephen being depressed, and it appears that is because the business which he inherited from his father has collapsed. His life has lost its meaning and he has become increasing depressed and isolated. Having lost the business he finds himself unemployed. He has no idea what do for employment, and he is broke.
An old school friend Graham, who has moved to the United States is on holiday in Brighton and Stephen bumps into him. They share some of their experiences with each other, and Graham asks Stephen if he would commit to taking the work as a taxi driver for one year.
Stephen takes up the suggestion and drives all the hours he can. Taxi driving ultimately brings in the money, as Stephen is working night shifts most nights of the week.
Exhaustion creeps upon him, and he begins to have bizzare experiences. Picking up Valerie and taking her to a group she attends at a day centre. Valerie is sick with cancer. He wants to meet her again, and asks the taxi controller about the house he picked Valerie up from. She says it doesn’t exist. Stephen drives around, and sure enough it doesn’t.
Stephen comes to realise that he is zoning out when he’s exhausted at work, and when he does this Thirteen appears, and he has other strange experiences whilst he is doing so. He comes around from these experiences by being parked in a car park that’s locked, and away from where he last remembers driving.
(This review is dull and heady just like the initial part of the book.)
He continues to take Valerie to her social event when he’s zoned, but also meets a couple of other people, Helena and Seymore, who become main characters of the novel.
These people, along with Valerie, begin to take him on a journey of self exploration, although they pop up at unexpected times, and Stephen cannot bump into them when he wishes. However, driving to number 13, he sometimes finds it there, and at other times it doesn’t exist.
On one of these occasions he knocks on the door and gets beaten up and told not to go back, and another time he seeks up to the window and witnesses a man being stabbed. He builds up the courage to return to and enter the house and he himself gets tied up and stabbed in the same manner as the witnessed stabbing.
During all of this he continues to build up a relationship with Helena. She introduces him to others, however, all but Seymour are bit part players that add dimension to the story.
Ultimately, the relationships between Stephen, Helena, Seymour and Valerie lead Stephen to a series of self realisations.
Valerie gets younger as the story unfolds and the emotional strength of the novel develops. Neither of the main characters will answer Stephens questions and he has to work out what is going on for himself.
When Valerie becomes nine years old the book has a major twist, and Stephens childhood memories begin to unfold. He and Graham had started a fire at the same age, and it turns out that the fire had killed a child called Lisa and her aunty. Valerie represents Lisa, but isn’t Lisa either.
Discussing these revealed memories with Helena, Valerie and Seymour becomes an expression of and relief from Stephen’s shame and guilt which he had blocked out throughout his life.
There is certainly a credible moral message within the book about the need to face, accept and move on from the past so that a happy life can proceed.
Am I glad that I continued to read the book? Yes. Would I read it again? Definitely not. It was hard going, hard to get into and I felt that the ending was rushed. I couldn’t even give a rating out of 10 for this book. Not because it doesn’t deserve one, but because the writing style felt inconsistent. To be gripped by a book that I put down for a werk and not wanting to read anymore is highly confusing for me.
Beaumont, S; 2008; Thirteen; Newcastle Upon Tyne; Myrmidon