An essential criterion for any good book – as it is for any good poem – is that it should say something important about the human condition in a powerful way. ‘Proof Positive’ does that from the beginning. I have rarely read an opening chapter so powerful and profound.
Lucy Hay has a sharp eye for telling detail and an almost pathological awareness of the discrepancy between human potential and actual achievement within the constricting contexts of family and social class. It hurts like ‘Hamlet’, and Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’.
The action is intimately observed, each character scrupulously and minutely drawn. Lizzie tells this story in all its manifestations, and each time you are convinced it must be largely autobiographical with the kind of descriptive detail one associates with someone’s personal reality – e.g. “I could see all five of my sisters, their eyes wide, at least one of them delighted I had fallen from grace with such a bump.” I could quote a hundred more examples.
For all those reasons I was SO not ready for what happened 22% into the story. I won’t give it away, but it is extraordinarily effective. I saw that technique employed in a film once, but I don’t recall having come across it in a book. I think it works spectacularly well.
This is an important book about the human condition. It doesn’t run along the tramlines of a predictable genre, preferring instead to follow the urgings of Lucy Hay’s heart, her scrupulous and endearing honesty, her superb eye and very sharp ear. How many Lizzie’s can there be? Well one, of course, but layered, deep, analytical and sensitive to the nth degree.
‘Proof Positive’ should be required reading for all teens (Education Secretaries take note!). It’s a very thought-provoking and deeply enjoyable read.