Trinidadian-born Roffey debuts with a strange and magical tale about a young London man’s metamorphosis—literally—into an adult.
August Chalmin grew up in a commune, not really the best preparation for life in the world. And, sure enough, now that he’s in his 20s, he seems to be going through the sort of identity crisis that most people face in adolescence and recapitulate in middle age. Shy, withdrawn, physically averse to daylight, August lives reclusively, working weekdays in a gourmet deli and spending most of his weekends indoors. But his routine is troubled when he begins to suffer from strange maladies. First, his skin turns blue in patches. Then, a white rash develops across his back and hands. His doctor says it’s eczema, but to August it looks more like frost: He even begins to form what appear to be icicles in the hair under his arms and in his groin. Eventually, he loses his hair and discovers buds (and, later on, flowers) sprouting in his navel and between his toes. What’s going on? During a chance encounter with his mother’s ex-boyfriend, August learns that his mother’s husband Luke (who died when August was a baby) wasn’t his real father. He confronts his mother, who flies into a rage and refuses to discuss the subject, so August sets off to track down his grandparents (whom he’s never met) and see what he can learn. The answer, when it finally comes, does explain the changes that August has undergone in the last few months—and, more importantly, it indicates the direction his new life is going to take. The birth of the soul, after all, is dark and mysterious, but it can bring as much peace in the end as the birth of a child.
An oddly moving and poignant tale, unfortunately marred by an amorphous beginning and a pace far too leisurely.