We all know the importance of cover design in making a browser become a buyer. But what of the other elements that crowd our senses in the first ten seconds? None of these individually made me buy Blood Kin, but they all helped it stay in my hand for longer until I made the decision. A quote from Coetzee can’t be dismissed easily. A bold, colourful jacket piques the curiosity. And the unusual name makes you flick to the About the Author photo inside the back cover. Ceridwen Dovey: sounds like an anagram, looks like a – … well, like someone holding a torch under her chin for Halloween.
Blood Kin is Dovey’s debut novel, and it lacks nothing in assurance. The quotes on the cover refer to fable, myth, allegory, and this is what Dovey gives us. We are in an unnamed country at an unnamed time, and a coup has just been carried out. The President has been kidnapped, along with his barber, his chef and his portraitist. They are held captive by the leader of the revolution, known only as The Commander. What this leads us to is a tale of aspects of power, told in cycling chapters by the three assistants. His Barber, the chapter is headed, but does it mean the President or the Commander? If power inspires loyalty in those subject to it, what does it lead to in those exercising it? And what of the power play in sexual relations between men and women? Dovey’s choice of occupations for the narrators – dealing in food, art and the human body, and all interested in their own beauty or that of others – gives her plenty of scope for sensual detail:
I guide his head beneath the tap so that the water just catches his hairline and barely wets his skin. The hair strands darken and clot with the water; he will feel the slight weight of them pulling away from his head, uncreasing his forehead, and the warmth with spread like a tide across his skull to the back of his brain.
Yet I found the narrators (there’s something I should add here but I think it might constitute a minor spoiler) spoke in the same poetic, aphoristic tone, with little stylistic variation, so that it was difficult to tell them apart other than as types. I also felt that Dovey at times was reaching toward things that I could not grasp – though that could be a case for a more careful re-reading on my part. But there’s no denying the care that has clearly been taken over every word here. There are a couple of significant revelations toward the conclusion of the story, and a satisfying inevitability to the closing pages.