“I want to tell you everything because I’ve never told anyone my secrets before. I’m hoping that being honest with you may just save my life. And perhaps yours.”
This quote from the opening pages of M. Jonathan Lee’s third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear, is one of many moments in which the central character, Andrew Walker, addresses you, his confidant, directly. Such monologues with the reader can be effective in any book, but when the character in question is in severe personal turmoil, when he is living a lie to his colleagues by day and suffering from a debilitating, crushing depression by night, the effect is devastating. If you’ve never known what it’s like to have a close friend battle with mental illness, where you worry for their personal wellbeing daily, you will when you start reading this book – it is that authentic.
To some extent, the authenticity stems from the fact that the book is partly biographical. But it’s also down to Lee’s wonderful writing (first person, present tense throughout), which is straight-talking, often darkly humorous and never sentimental. Walker describes his day-to-day observations in great detail so you can picture them vividly, but also in such a matter-of-fact way that, once you get to know him, you have no reason to doubt his honesty about anything.
This is an important strength of the book because for readers who have never had depression or severe anxiety, it’s often hard to relate to someone who has. If someone were to tell you they feel useless or empty, would you take it at face value? When Walker tells you, you don’t doubt it, and in the scenes when the sheer depths of his horrific depression are put into words – when he uses powerful imagery of black butterflies with steel wings scraping in his chest, or his dark thoughts smashing into him like a ten-pin bowling ball the second he enters his home after work – you feel for him. It’s real. And when you think that this is how many people around the world are feeling, it’s heartbreaking.
There is so much more to this novel that I could tell you about (there really is), but I don’t want to reveal any specifics about the story because they’re Andrew Walker’s secrets to tell. If you need your novels to be full of action and thrills, you may not enjoy A Tiny Feeling of Fear. If you like novels that are so well observed and reflect real life so accurately that they consume you completely, play on your mind for days and demand more than one re-read, A Tiny Feeling of Fear may well become your new favourite book. It’s certainly mine. I get butterflies just thinking about it.