No one should die the way he did: that’s what the faces here say. I think about him, in there, with all that space, and I want to stop them. I want to open the coffin and climb in with him. To wrap him up in a duvet. I can’t bear the thought of him being cold. And all the time the same question flails around my head, like a hawk moth round a light bulb: Is it possible to keep loving somebody when they kill someone you love?
I wanted to include the quote from the back of the book so no one could be in any doubt that Infinite Sky is an emotionally challenging book. This is real-life stuff, about now and here, not wrapped up in a dystopian future or with a supernatural twist. I love both those types of books, but they do allow me a little emotional distance – there are no such barriers here.
Iris is intrigued by the gypsies that set up camp in her father’s paddock. To her, their arrival promises to add some interest to the summer. She needs something to distract her from missing mother, who’s gone swanning off to find herself. Iris’s dad and brother are not so keen about the intrusion, but then they are not so entranced by Trick, the teenage boy with the nice hair.
Infinite Sky is a coming-of-age story; over the course of the summer Iris moves from being a child to being a young adult. At the beginning of the book she is obviously out of step with her friend Matty, who is interested in boys and clothes and appearances. Iris is unconcerned with this stuff, she still enjoys playing outside and isn’t really bothered about what she looks like. I think the idea of freedom is what most appeals to Iris about the travellers’ lifestyle. Roaming about with Trick is fun and exciting and easy – they talk about their families, and their lives. The pleasure they take in each other’s company has to be kept very secret, neither family approves of their fraternisation.
Iris’s brother Sam also needs something to help him cope with his family’s breakdown. Unfortunately, the arrival of Trick and his family acts as a catalyst for Sam’s deteriorating behaviour. He has some horrible friends, that encourage him to act badly. His anger and frustration are directed at Trick, especially once the relationship with Iris intensifies. In the heat of the summer, something’s got to give.
It’s an intense story, beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. Iris’s introduction into adulthood is brutal and abrupt. She does nothing that thousands and thousands haven’t done before her, but her first romance ends in tragedy. The way she fibs and sneaks out to see Trick is so perfectly true (I may have gone out with an unsuitable boy once or twice in my teenage years). That pull she experiences between being a good daughter and doing something of her own is also brilliantly described. She doesn’t want to disappoint her dad, but she can’t agree with his opinions. The widespread and casual discrimination faced by travellers is a big part of the book, but it’s not done in a heavy-handed, hectoring way. Rather it simply uses the language and contempt routinely expressed by otherwise decent-seeming folk. Iris’s acceptance is considered naive. The suspicion from both sides is unpleasant, but Iris and Trick show friendships can be forged. But, the tragedy that plays out can only deepen the hatred. In this I think Infinite Sky works as a warning – start with a little tolerance and kindness because it may become too late. There’s plenty to think about in the novel, and I would love to discuss it with anyone out there who has read it. I hope it is widely read, it is a novel worth talking about.
Simon and Schuster were kind enough to send me an advance copy of Infinite Sky. It is published today.