The Third Person by Stephanie Newell comes as a pleasant surprise. The novel, published as an ebook by Philistine Press, presents itself as the diary of fourteen-year-old Lizzie, a creative and compellingly strange child who scribbles away with enthusiasm about her separated parents, her annoying sister, and her attempts at gothic calligraphy. Yet Lizzie also has a dark side, flirting as she does with thievery, poisoning and a string of malicious lies.
Lizzie is a fair template for the novel itself. Although on the surface it appears as a light and summery read, there are hints of something ominous beneath the surface, the nature of which solidifies as the story goes on. Glimpses of the darkness are fleeting, but often expressed in such musical and inventive ways that they carry a great deal of weight.
And this is one of the things that surprised me about The Third Person. It is perhaps a cynical and unfair bias of mine to expect that novels published as ebooks might be of lower quality than novels that find their way to print. In this case at least it is certainly not true. A great deal of skill and energy seems to have gone into the prose. It reads flawlessly, flowingly, with many of the diary entries verging on poetry.
While the writing itself cannot be faulted, I did feel the pacing falter now and again. At the opening of the book a fantastic sense of something sinister is established with a variety of unsettling elements: the “bone factory” that pollutes the air of Lizzie’s village; the shadowy stranger that watches her as she collects bottles; the ghostly writing that appears on her walls. But as the novel goes on these anomalies fall away or are explained, and the darker parts of the story seem to take a back seat. For a brief span it does read like an ordinary child’s diary which, although intriguing, doesn’t serve up the same gripping disquiet as the earlier chapters.
Although the climax doesn’t possess the same quiet menace as the beginning it is nevertheless executed beautifully, and brings everything to a satisfying close. All in all The Third Person is an excellent and involving read. With the entire text available for download for free, there’s no reason not to give it a look.
The Third Person is available from Philistine Press at: www.philistinepress.com.