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The Pools

by Bethan Roberts

This is a dark story set in the mid 1980s in non-descript Abingdon, Oxfordshire where nothing much happens and where ennui seems to be the prevailing mood.
Great cooling towers from the power station loom over the landscape and by them is an area known locally as “the pools” - a welcome, tranquil semi-wild place where twitchers watch birds from the hide and where bored adolescent kids hang out. When a teenage boy, Robert, is found dead in the pools the suburban calm is shattered.

The story now rewinds to unravel the events leading up to his death and a complex set of family histories is revealed through two narrators: Howard and Joanna. Howard is Rob’s rather strange repressed father who fails to understand his quiet, artistic son whom he feels has more of a bond with his mother Kathryn. Kathryn was widowed young and her past life haunts Howard who knows he is no match for her first love, the enigmatic, motorcycle-riding Jack.
Joanna is a loner, whose home life is wrecked when creepy know-all Simon usurps her dad. Her only friend appears to be Shane, a strange boy who was brain-damaged in a car accident. So when Rob starts at her school she makes a beeline for him misunderstanding Rob’s relationship with his friend Luke and Shane’s obsessive feelings towards her.

A sense of menace and foreboding pervades this book and I think this comes from Bethan Robert’s ability to portray brilliantly the discomfiture of teenagers on the brink of sexual awakening and all the attendant complexities of intense emotion that it brings.


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