A novella about traversing one of life’s inevitable landmarks into the emotional independence of adulthood, this beguiling tale blurs the ordinary banality of everyday middle-class life (9 to 5, designer shirt, takeaway curry, designer shoes, Friday night out, hangover, designer watch, blah) with significant spiritual revelation. As if that weren’t enough, author Kevin Ansbro also takes a stab at accounting for acts of violence among British-born Muslims.
Yet despite such weighty subject matters, ‘The Angel in My Well’ isn’t heavy-going in the least. Ansbro opts to explain universal truths of cosmic significance (including reincarnation through the ladder of life, seeking soulmates from past lives and a dash of destiny), over a nice cuppa tea in a slightly scruffy living room on a normal suburban housing estate where an average lad has been moping since the death of his nearest relative. Our hero is utterly unconcerned by the miraculous appearance of the titular angel, bearing him tidings of goodwill, and he immediately accepts the rightness of her revelations.
With all the metaphysical stuff squared away, the pair head out for a party with his mates… after kitting out the cosmic messenger in trendy threads with all the right labels. It’s a weird juxtaposition of the incredible alongside the entirely unremarkable; the very meaning of existence contrasted with the meaninglessness of most lives. A very subtle set of messages, indeed.
The more challenging thread to the story is that of the second-generation Muslim man, born British to immigrant parents. While the rest of his family are comfortable living in England, he’s become gradually disenchanted with the western society and its disintegrating morality. This puts him on a conflicting pathway with Joe as their destinies converge with potentially fatal consequences.
Ansbro reports the incidents which illustrate how a happy young lad, at ease playing with friends of any colour, becomes an angry young man, buying nails and bolts to build a bomb. One brother is at ease in the UK, integrated but still clearly comfortable with his family’s culture and customs. The other brother is isolated from those who love him, hostile and deeply unhappy. For me, these sections were much more interesting than those spent with the 20-somethings living it up in the ’burbs, and more insight into the ‘why’ of the rise of fundamentalism would have been welcome.
Despite the serious subjects, the author adroitly keeps much of the tone light and the pace rapid. This is a story wrapped in playful banter, not outright brutality. It’s easy reading, although I did find Ansbro’s habit of constantly using colons: in sentences – or dashes throughout the text – instead of commas: more than a little distracting. That grammatical glitch doesn’t detract from the impact of the raw personal emotion at some crucial stages, however.
The Angel In My Well is a slim book, one which delivers much more of substance than its word count might suggest. Those experiencing great grief and loss for the first time may well find it a comfort, especially in the final poignant pages with the appearance of a very significant blackbird.
A very promising first publication which bodes well for Ansbro’s future writing.