Review: Black Chalk by Albert Alla

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Title: Black Chalk
Author: Albert Alla
Publisher: Garnet Publishing
Page Count: 318
Format: Paperback
Release Date: June 3, 2013
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Rating: Three-stars

Book Summary: In the Oxfordshire countryside, a student walks into a classroom and starts shooting. Nate Dillingham, friends with shooter and victims alike, is the sole survivor and only witness. Easily led and eager to please, his recollections weave around others’ hopes until he loses track of what really happened that day. After eight evasive years on the road, he comes back to Oxford, meets Leona, and plunges into a world of candour and desire. But Nate’s defences are deteriorating and Leona shares too much of his past…

My Review: For the first half of the novel, Nate avoids his emotions on the tragic school shooting where he was the only survivor. With no other witnesses to corroborate his story, Nate is considered a hero by the media and the town. But unable to face his own demons, Nate disappears for eight long years. Much to his surprise, a lot has changed when he finally returns home.

In the second half, Nate begins to slowly allow himself to remember the incident. He has trouble sleeping because of his nightmares and a new love interest has him wanting to be as honest as possible. But is it a good idea?

Nate’s flashbacks of his friends and of the shooter give the reader a better insight about what happened, but at times it felt as if Alla was simply going through the motions of writing the story. As an author, Alla tells the reader how to feel and what they are seeing rather than describing it for them to form their own thoughts and feelings.

While the first couple of chapters didn’t immediately engage me, Alla’s writing seems to warm up toward the middle of the book. Despite this, I felt that Alla’s dialogue often came off stiff or exaggerated and not very believable at times. For me, Nate’s narration is what held the book together and Alla helps the reader view the world through Nate’s eyes, no matter how confusing his world might get.

The only real suspense I felt came during the final chapter. Nate’s paranoia spirals out of control and I kept wondering what would happen in the end. I flip-flopped between thinking that Nate had finally lost it and wondering if he was right in thinking the way he did.

Final Thoughts: While Albert Alla aims to write an emotionally charged novel, it falls a little flat and a little far from the mark.

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