I was given an advance copy of Jane Davis’ Smash all the Windows to review, and Jane’s characters completely enveloped me with all of their suffocating feelings. The book is a hard-hitting collection of memories about family, love, tragedy and grief, and what you can and can’t let go of in life.
Jane is the author of several literary and contemporary novels and her debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award. The idea for Smash all the Windows came to her after learning of the outcome of the second inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, when the initial ruling that laid the blame with football fans was overturned. The expectation was that now justice had been delivered, the families could ‘get on with their lives’; Jane thought, ‘What lives?’ Her book focuses on how it’s impossible to lay the past to rest; years on, her characters are still greatly affected by the fictional tragedy that changed their lives forever.
Jane’s story is told from several different perspectives: the victims describe their final moments and how they arrived at the station where they were killed in a human crush; family members remember how they found out the news that their loved ones had died; the families’ grieving process over the next several years is pored over in minute detail. Some characters learn to adapt to the constant reminders that their loved ones have gone, some leave their family to try to forget what happened, while others become pillars of support for their and other families. They deal with their grief and anger in all of their manifestations.
There’s Jules, a French artist who creates sculptures expressing his grief at losing his wife. He’s asked to stage a new exhibition of his work and collaborates with the families of the victims to create new pieces from their mementos. He’s learnt that his art helps him to let go of his anger and sadness, and he hopes he can help the other families to let go too.
And there’s Tamsin, who lost her brother. She becomes her mother’s lifeline when her father moves out and starts over with a new family. After several years of providing support for her mother, Tamsin wants to move on with her life and move in with her boyfriend, but she feels guilty for leaving her mother’s side.
Gina, Tamsin’s mother, turns to alcohol after her son dies and her husband leaves. She doesn’t think she’s a good mother; after her son’s death she found out that he was a drug dealer. She’s kept his room locked with a padlock for several years, but she allows Jules to put the whole room on display in his exhibition.
Donovan is a father who lost his pregnant daughter and her partner. Now his wife doesn’t leave the house, so he mourns the loss of his wife’s former self too. He was building a crib for his grandchild before the tragedy, which now lies in pieces abandoned in his garage; he asks Jules to display the crib in the exhibition.
A review of loss and absence
Jane’s in-depth descriptions and analogies of loss and absence are incredibly poignant. In one instance, Jules draws around his hand then says that when he takes his hand away, its absence is what creates the picture. Plaster casts are something else that are created out of absence.
He sees others’ barriers to letting go too. Some characters, such as Gina, have created a hard shell to protect themselves from everything that life throws at them. Jules relates this to Pompeii: the lava and ash bury the town, and the rock sets around the bodies like a hard shell.
Smash all the Windows is a beautifully written book that makes you reflect on what life and death mean to different people, and I’m grateful to Jane to let me review an advance copy. The novel will be published on 12 April, but you can pre-order a copy now for the special price of £1.99 by clicking here (price on publication: £3.99). And you can read Jane’s book I Stopped Time for free by signing up for her e-newsletter.