Review: The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes

Image from Fantastic Fiction
Image from Fantastic Fiction

Title: The Drowning of Arthur Braxton
Author: Caroline Smailes
Publisher: The Friday Project
Publication Date: 11 April 2013
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 5/5

Synopsis from Amazon

An urban fairy tale from the acclaimed author of 99 Reasons Why.

Arthur Braxton runs away from school.

He hides out in an abandoned building, an old Edwardian bathhouse.

He discovers a naked woman swimming in the pool.

From this point on, nothing will ever be the same.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an unflinching account of the pain and trauma of adolescence and of how first love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something miraculous. It is a dark and brooding modern fairy tale from one of our most gifted writers.


This is a novel which will take your breath away and stay with you for a very long time. I finished it last week and I still keep bringing sections of it back and thinking about what could have been.

Despite the title the novel is more than just Arthur’s story – it’s put together in layers and flips forwards and backwards in time giving the reader glimpses of the whole picture which is finally drawn both beautifully and tragically together at the end.

All is not what it seems as the urban grittiness of reality meshes with the spiritual world of the water healers and the mysterious Delphina who completely takes over Arthur’s world. His mind moves from his terrible school, his broken father and his absent mother to his impulsive need to spend as much time as is physically possible in the abandoned, near derelict bathhouse, to be near Delphina.

This novel works because it’s a mash-up of possibly the most urban, modern landscape you could imagine in Manchester with the ethereal and mythical qualities brought out by the bathhouse, the history of the water healers and their tales. A further layer comes in the retelling of several classical Greek myths – Castor and Pollux, Medea and Jason and Apollo and Daphne. All tales were beautiful but I think the retelling of Medea and Jason through Maddie is the most hard-hitting and took my breath away.

Smailes writes in a way which just connects with me, her style just fits with the way my brain works and it’s something which means I believe in the characters deeply and have an emotional involvement which is very rare for me. This novel will make you cry, take your breath away and I encourage everybody to at least give it a go.


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3 Replies to “Review: The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes”

  1. Great review – and thanks for telling me enough to whet my appetite further but without giving any spoilers. I’m already looking forward to reading this but you’ve ramped up the anticipation with this review. Thanks!

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