|THE NEW REVIEW|
Read Whiteley’s story on the Showcase section of this site
This is the story of Edward and Anna St Clare, two siblings who have the ability to influence others with their words (whether through preternatural charisma or psychic powers is unclear). Edward works for his father James’s insurance firm; but not for long, because he keeps persuading customers they don’t really need insurance. John Dart also works for James, and lusts after Anna, a researcher for a TV quiz show. Anna learns from Edward that her father has been using her to secure John’s loyalty, so James can pass on the business to him. Angry, she decides to take revenge on them all – but, meticulous planner though she is, even Anna can’t predict the consequences…
I’ll get straight to the point: Aliya Whiteley is a brilliant writer. There are number of very beautiful and evocative passages in ‘Mean Mode Median’, and here is a sample:
“Politicians would have killed for Edward’s gift: matchless truth shining though skilled, artful words; sentences slipping through the air in hanging, weightless spirals and vortices, leaving tiny black holes that demanded to be filled by raw emotion; the demand for more, making you laugh, cry, and reach deeper into yourself than superficial feelings, deep into pains and pleasures you keep tucked away, out of reach of your spoken life and now suddenly in front of you, around you, surrounding you; abounding, astounding emotions.”
Whiteley presents an entire chapter in two columns; but, rather than merely coming across as irritating and pretentious, this device actually works to advance the plot and deepen the characters. And there’s also a sex scene which is not only well written but also contributes to character development.
So, the writing is very good (and sometimes better); but what of the story Whiteley tells with it? As I hinted earlier, ‘Mean Mode Median’ revolves around Anna’s attempt to gain revenge on the men in her life, and is told in a mixture of her first-person account and third-person scenes with the other characters. The plot is generally convincing, given the characters as they’re established in the book, but it tails off towards the end: another character is shoehorned in during the closing chapters and establishes a relationship that I found quite unconvincing. And, whilst I appreciate the irony of the ending, I don’t really buy it. But all this is unimportant, because ‘Mean Mode Median’ is, first and foremost, a character study – and in this, it excels.
It would have been so easy for the author to tell a tale of ‘the good brother’ and ‘the bad sister’; to Whiteley’s credit, she does not. Whilst Anna does come across as a selfish and manipulative sort whom it’s hard to feel sorry for, Edward also comes under examination, and it’s tied to the issue of power and its use (or abuse). Just how moral is it to influence people, even if you’re doing it with (at least ostensibly) the best of intentions? Is Anna the more honest sibling because she is transparent about her motives for manipulating others? Pleasingly, Whiteley offers no simple answers.
Another fascinating issue discussed in ‘Mean Mode Median’ is that of what makes one person better than another. Anna has always been convinced that her abilities put her above other people – but the events of the novel question her (self) belief. The title refers to the way that different methods of calculation lead to different results: who’s to say what is ‘average’? Does the fact that (in Anna’s words) ‘we are all scuttling creatures on the face of something we don’t understand’ make a life any less important or remarkable to the person who lives it? Again, Whiteley lets us draw our own conclusions (though I don’t think it’s too hard to guess her view on the matter).
The cover blurb says that ‘Mean Mode Median’ “is the kind of book…that you think about long after you have put it down.” And the blurb is correct: the novel poses some important questions, and in quite a short volume. In fact, ‘Mean Mode Median’ could probably do with being a bit longer, which would give the issues more room to breathe (and would also help tackle the plotting problems I mentioned above). Still, when the worst criticism one can make of a book is that it’s too short, it must surely be a book worth investigating. I suggest you do so?
Reproduced with permission
David Hebblethwaite lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.
|MEAN MODE MEDIAN
by Aliya Whiteley
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
|If you are interested in reviewing films/books for the site, contact me here|
Books & Stuff
Hand Picked Lit Links
Lit Mag Central
The New Review
Punk @ laurahird.com
Save Our Short Story
Order Heather Brett’s ‘Green Monkey Travelling’
Order Oz Hardwick’s ‘Truths and Disguises’
Order ‘The Review of Contemporary Poetry’ edited by Gary Bills
Order Jan Fortune-Wood’s ‘A Good Life’
Order Alison L.R. Davies’ ‘King of the Birds’
Order Roselle Angwin’s ‘Looking for Icarus’
Order Alice Lenkiewicz’ ‘Maxine’
Order Roger Harvey’s ‘Poet on the Road’
Order Kevin Bailey’s ‘Surviving Love’