Black Chalk – Albert Alla

Title – Black Chalk

Author – Albert Alla

Published – November 2013

Genre – Crime / psychological fiction

The premise of this book sounded intriguing – the story of the sole survivor of a school shooting, but, for me, it failed to deliver.

Nate is 17 when the shooting takes place at his Oxford school. Hospitalised immediately after the incident he is isolated from others affected by the events – either accidentally or due to the actions of his mother. The story follows Nate as he escapes the UK for a nomadic existence and embarks on some questionable relationships. After eight years he returns to the UK and to live with his parents.

I found Nate to be an unlikeable character. While the book is mostly concerned with his feelings and his emotional journey, in fact he seems to spend the first half of the book cruising along completely unbothered by the horror of what he experienced. When he returns to Oxford he meets a beautiful young girl that he quickly becomes besotted with. When he realises that she has a link to the shootings he remains selfish and puts his feelings before hers. This eventually leads to cataclysmic results.

I know this is fiction and may intend to provoke the reader into wondering how they would react or how others would react in the situation, but for me Nate’s behaviour and emotions lacked any credibility. Told in the first-person it actually might have been interesting to see his behaviour as others perceived it. I also found the writing could be difficult to read and follow, perhaps it’s because most of my reading is faster-paced crime fiction where emotions don’t figure so centrally to the story.

There was some real tension in the last few chapters of the book but the ending wasn’t what I would have hoped for.

This is the debut novel by Albert Alla and I must thank the publisher for my review copy.

Whilst I might not have enjoyed this there are plenty of very positive reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. The good news, though, is that it reminds me that I do need to finish a review of the disturbing “Rupture” by Simon Lelic.



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