How The Trouble Started by Robert Williams

Robert Williams is the author of Luke and Jon, a young adult/crossover novel which I loved. How The Trouble Started is his second novel and can be found in adult fiction, however, there is a definite continuation of theme and style in this story of guilt, isolated children and single parenting.

Donald, the first person narrator, is 16. He lives with his mother in Raithswaite, a place they moved to after “the trouble”. We immediately learn that at 8 Donald was involved in an incident in which a 2 year old died. We don’t know how it happened, or how culpable Donald was. He returns to school afterwards but the harassment he and his mother consequently receive results in their move. Donald’s mother is resentful, veering from silent admonishments to loud, angry outbursts in which she rages at Donald for everything and anything. She demands he doesn’t discuss what happened with anyone for fear of reprisals. The incident is the silent burn between them, and the barrier between Donald and the rest of the world.

Inescapable guilt overwhelms Donald to the extent he learns to perfect “vanishings”; imaginary lives in which he is a whole other person, not the boy who killed a toddler. He attempts friendships but feels too awkward and different. In a wonderfully achy part of the story Donald describes his one and only visit to his two schoolmate’s houses. His sense of wrongness is reinforced by the luxury of their homes, the warmth of their parents. 

“Even their mums made me feel out of place. They were bright and friendly, coming back from the shops with bags full of expensive things, handing out treats like it was Christmas.”

After that he distances himself from them and, apart from Fiona, (the only sympathetic female character) a neighbour who he occasionally walks and talks with, is a loner.

When he sees 8 year old Jake in a playground, not fitting in, not dressed in the right clothes, he talks to him and they form a friendship of sorts – Donald making up scary stories, taking him to a spooky deserted house, buying him a can and sweets – and we worry about his intent. 

The fragility of life is never far from Donald’s mind, or ours. The story is short (I pretty much finished it in one go) and as I read on I couldn’t predict how it would conclude, I only knew that I had a worried feeling throughout and I wanted to know how it would end. Taken at face value Donald is extremely naive and his actions become increasingly hard to justify. 

When we learn the truth of the “trouble” it’s satisfyingly murky and neither Donald or the reader is sure which of two memories is the real one.

Williams is excellent at capturing kids that don’t fit; the alienated, the sad, the guilty. His mothers are absent even if they are physically present (in L&J the mum is dead) and neglect their sons. Boys are left to deal with the cruelty of the world, of school and other kids, alone. Occasionally an older man (teacher, neighbour) will show some much needed kindness. With his clear prose and easy voice Williams is able to touch on huge subjects like mortality, memory, guilt and intent without it ever feeling laboured or difficult. 

“… every second I was alive he wasn’t. That every time I looked at the sky, stroked a dog, ate a cake, ran a race, drank a drink, read a book, went to sleep, cleaned my teeth, combed my hair, woke up, sat down, stood up, he couldn’t. And all the things he couldn’t do, his mum and dad were there to see him not doing them.”


The only book to be reviewed twice on my blog: Luke and Jon by Robert Williams

My son Dylan has been reading Luke and Jon and discussing it with me. I asked him if he’d like to write a review for my blog. He said yes, but that he was going to say exactly what he thought and hoped he didn’t upset the author. 

“I think Luke and Jon was very beautifully written. It had a really good mixture of chapters that go from death to new beginnings. I like the fact that Luke and his dad were in a way outsiders in a little creepy village which they had never heard of and only had enough money to buy a cheap crumbling and depressing house. Then Luke meets probably one of the strangest but loving and intelligent people: Jon. I think it’s absolutely touching when Luke and Jon become best friends. My favourite bit was when Luke and his dad adopted Jon, it really made me emotional. My only dislike about the book was the ending even though it was a lovely ending about his mum in the sea I would of liked to read more about how Luke his dad and Jon lived together but it wasn’t a let down because everything else made up for it in this wonderful book.”

Review by Dylan Crowley

Two jolly good books

I recently read a couple of damn fine books and made a mental note to blog about them. The problem with mental notes is that they end up muddled and mixed in with all sorts of gubbins from my mind so I am unable to offer much in the way of constructive thinking. Ho hum, no reason not to say that I really liked them is there?

The first book is Luke and Jon by Robert Williams. It’s now available in paperback for only £6.99 which is a bargain. It’s one of those books that was originally marketed as Young Adult and is now Adult Fiction. (It’s fairly meaningless but when I read it I certainly didn’t feel I was reading a children’s book, equally I thought that my 13 year old boys may enjoy it. Dylan has just begun it though he’s a little wary in case it’s too sad as I told him it was about a boy whose mum died.)
Anyway, the story is about a 13 year old boy and his relationships with his father, in the wake of his mother’s death, and his friend Jon. It’s not a showy book but it’s full of calm, quiet truths. I’m not over keen on the phrase deceptively simple but, erm, yeah, this is. Williams creates a wonderful voice and a story with proper depth. He’s good at capturing the difficulties of being a lad at school, and he’s written a novel with real heart. Oh, and it totally sucked me in and toyed with my emotions. Yes, I may have shed a tear or two. 
“Eventually I got surer on my feet and looked up to see what was overhead. It was a trick I learned from my mum. She said that every now and again, walking your usual route through town or to school, you should look up as you travelled instead of straight ahead, that you would see things you hadn’t seen before. And she was right. The first time I walked through our old town and lifted my head up I saw things I’d never noticed in a town I’d lived in all my life. In the forest the trees stretched high and higher into the sky, disappearing out of sight and there was only the odd glimpse of sky poking through the canopy. It felt like we were indoors; it reminded me of the church on the day of mum’s funeral: ancient and powerful.”
The second book is Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower Oh my goodness, if you’re a short story fan and haven’t yet read this collection then I envy you, for you must, you shall, and it will be fabulous. 
Wells Tower describes things in a gorgeously fresh way. His stories are drenched in images and unique perfect phrases. I am deeply envious of his talent. (The worst story, oddly, is the title story. It’s absolute tosh and a real let down that is the last thing one reads. How strange.) 
“He scrambled along the spit of rock. The wind cut the stagnant dampness of the day and dried the sweat on his face and chest. He took the salt into his lungs and savored the pure itch in his chest. He touched the long grasses waving in the water like women’s hair. He crouched to observe the barnacles, their tiny feathery hands combing blindly for invisible prey.”
So, there ya go – two good books (coincidentally both with brownish covers.)

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