A REVIEW OF "OFF TRACK"
"I was very quickly absorbed by the times, places and truly memorable characters evoked in Liezl Shnookal's novel Off Track. It has a poignancy that is all too real: the adventures and perils of young people finding themselves and their place in the world, rising onto their own shaky two feet, head in the air but feet hopefully still on the ground, while negotiating the maze of emerging self-knowledge and all those perennial contradictions, both light and dark, of human experience, including - in this book - specific pressures of social status and family conformity, as well as rebellion while having to go with the flow of quickly changing and often confusing times.
I particularly liked the evocations of Shoreham, and people I felt I so quickly got to know and like. Everything was well grounded in place and time, and the characters all so efficiently and effectively evoked, without wasted words, and in a crisp prose style that propelled the story along, including all its sub-plots ... all rolling forward.
The story is very well grounded and on the calendar, as everything unfolds logically in time... historical events, dates are registered, using adroit references to pop songs, tv shows and political events as the years and the narrative unfolds.
Each of the characters also seems to unfold within that same closely clocked time. As the next chapter jumps forward a little further, a bit like a movie 'quick cut', but never too abruptly, or too far ahead, thus helping to keep the story on track.
The unity of place and time in the story is also reinforced, and made amply coherent, by the use of the first person viewpoint of the main Lucy character. Along the way we also experience her friends and lovers, family members, places they went, institutions (schools etc) they attended, pets, interests, hobbies, political beliefs, passions, thoughts, expectations, hopes (and fears) for the future... their education, job prospects, qualifications, shared houses, etc ... all highly relevant to the experiences of these young people, and touched upon very effectively and efficiently, again without too much burden of discursive detail or wasted words, to adroitly help shore up the overall, bigger-picture narrative and make it realistic, forward-moving, compelling and convincing.
I noticed too how well the story swaps from one character to the next - very adroitly, and without wasted detail; quickly reporting and observing them as the moment directly unfolds; which effortlessly brings characters alive. Details such as their facial expressions, body language, how they are standing, what they are thinking and feeling, what they look like... whether staring woodenly into space, nervously fidgeting, smiling enigmatically, tapping a foot quickly, etc. etc... This is done very skilfully and economically.
This is a classic 'growing up' story, very specific in setting, but with universal relevance and appeal, and very well done."
John Jenkins, poet and author (via email 11/05/20).