Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 21, 2017

Tracks, by Channa Wickremesekera #BookReview

About half-way through reading this book, I picked up my pencil and started making corrections.  I do not usually mark the books I’m reading in any way – even if they are destined for the Op Shop I like the next reader to enjoy the book free from my observations about it.  But this book is not ready for publication and should never have been sent to me for review.  I felt as if I were back in the classroom, wearily marking up writing, and rehearsing what I would say to my student: have you re-read this very carefully as you are supposed to, before bringing it for me to read?  

It is such a pity, because Tracks has such great potential.  I have read Channa Wickremesekera’s work before (see Asylum) and liked it very much.  And that is why, against my better judgement, I broke my own rules and agreed to review a self-published book.

Tracks begins well but it needs a good editor.  The story explores the sexual identity of Shehan, a middle-class teenager of Sri-Lankan heritage.  He has a crush on a troubled student called Robbie who has been expelled from countless schools because of his violent temper.  Robbie is not gay, but he likes Shehan, not least because Shehan tries to help him get away from his violent father.

The novel paints a  convincing picture of a gay adolescent facing the dilemmas of falling in love with someone who is straight. The first-person voice is pitch-perfect and Shehan’s struggle to reconcile his head and his heart when things get out of control is engaging.  But when Shehan eventually realises the dangerous risks of his friendship with this very violent young man, and recognises that he is compromising his own academic future as well, Wickremesekera undercuts his own theme by having his convincing gay character suddenly fall for a girl.  An editor would have sorted out this flaw in the novel’s trajectory either by dispensing with the girl character, replacing her with another gay character, or by making Shehan much less certain of his sexuality early in the novel.  As it is, the book is a wasted opportunity: it could have been a worthwhile contribution to YA books exploring the full range of sexual identities and the confusion that young people can feel –  but instead it ‘solves’ the character’s problem with the stroke of an unrealistic pen – by simply making Shehan straight after all.

That’s not the only thing an editor would have dealt with.  The book is riddled with errors.  There is missing and incorrect punctuation; there are numerous errors with verb tenses, especially when using the conditional; there are spelling and grammatical mistakes; and there are inconsistencies in the text: one minute Robbie’s little sister Megan is sitting with him at the railway station and the next the girl with him is his girlfriend Sarah, and on another occasion Afghans seeking revenge for Robbie beating up one of their community turn into Arabs as if they are interchangeable.

There’s a five-star review at Goodreads by a highly credentialed member of the Institute of Professional Editors which made me wonder if I read the same book…

Author: Channa Wickremesekera
Title: Tracks
Publisher: Channa Wickremesekera, 2014
ISBN: 9780646932712
Review copy courtesy of the author.

 


Responses

  1. I take it self publishers had one last chance and they blew it. But to address the topic, I really had no idea about homosexuality when I was at school, though looking back I can think of a couple of boys who obviously were, and I wonder now how they got on.

    • I’ve got another one that I agreed to do, and I hope I don’t live to regret it. It makes me very cross, because reading is meant to be a pleasure, and it is no pleasure to be reading something so poorly produced.

  2. That’s dreadful – such a disservice to the author to allow the book to be published in that state. It sounds as if the first draft was sent out by mistake!

    • This is why I don’t read proof copies. I had a request today about a book that they wanted to send me so that they could quote whatever complementary words I might say in the blurb for the book. I said no, only partly because I have too many other books at the moment anyway. I review the book as it goes to every other consumer.

      • I suspect no editor was involved here, often the case with self-published books. You’re right about proofs although errors in finished copies make me cringe even more!

        • If this book was edited, and the author paid for that editing, then he should demand a refund, and I’ll send him my annotated copy of the book to use in court!

  3. Oh dear. I hope it was a mistake to send that particular draft; nobody who writes wants to hear negative feedback – but it has to be done if the writing is as flawed as you suggest. As others have said, it sounds like maybe this novel needed another stage of editing and proofreading before sending it out for review. Maybe a lesson has been learnt.

    • And nobody likes to do a negative review either. But the book has been available in this form since 2014, and if a consumer buys it, presumably this is what they get.


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