From ‘The End’ – Unthank Books (authors, various)
“Burning the Ants’ uses stylistic elements and creates a narrative that pans out like a motion picture. The story revolves around a pair of twins, Emma and Joanie. With an unfortunate twist of events Emma is paralyzed and Joanie tries to become more and more like her sister, and as the narrative unravels identities are blurred. The act of burning ants when they were children becomes a symbol of conflict in each character.
Jude Gerald Lopez
For this reason the best stories in the collection are those that have a bit more acreage. Ashley Stokes’ Chuggers tale ‘Decompression Chamber’ and Sarah Dobbs’ luminous story of fatalistic twins, ‘Burning the Ants’ read more like small novels and are the better for it. Dobbs story in particular is slow to give up its secrets, but the better for it…
Burning the Ants by Sarah Dobbs is a powerful, self-contained examination of sibling love and hate, and what can happen when a single moment of chance sets their lives on new paths. Exploring ideas of identity, rivalry and loyalty, it is one of the longer tales in the anthology, and merits every word it contains.
A selection of loveliness that occurred because of the Guardian’s Not the Booker.
Memorable and Compelling Debut!
The opening chapter hooks the reader with its graphic description of the killing of Daniel and the narrative continues at such a fast pace that it is almost impossible to stop reading. At times, the use of language is poetic and the short sentences make for easy reading. I found the ending very satisfying and on finishing, reflected on how cleverly Dobbs has used it to bring together her many strands and close the circle of events.
I don’t regard this as a feminist novel – even though its two central characters are women – rather, it is about relationships and the human condition – showing the power of social conditioning and negative family patterns and the strength of the human spirit to find a way through and survive.
Compelling, powerful, impressionistic..
A compelling, powerful, impressionistic narrative tracing the connections between two childhood friends whose lives have become remarkably contingent despite the distance between them. Master of implicature, Dobbs weaves together the whispers of these two secret lives like the orchestrator of some lucid dream. Whilst marketed as a thriller, the surface narrative is often abrogated by a much darker subtext relating to sexual abuse, the struggle for identity and the personal reclamation of memory.
An astonishing exercise in style demonstrating a young author’s expert craftsmanship. Killing Daniel is a novel for the thoughtful and the brave.
Fleur is barely existing, living a damaging life. Chinatsu is storing money under her moonflower just in case she has to leave. They once knew each other, and this is the powerful story of how their lives are drawn back together.
There is a strong sense of destiny running throughout. We know things will come together as soon as we see the contents listing 36 chapters in part one and 36 in part two, but the delight lies in observing how Dobbs steers events to the finale. It is a brilliant balancing act of storytelling. Gripping, and in this sense a thriller.
The characters live on well after the book has finished. What do we else do we take with us? We learn about human touch – from brutal violence to gentleness – so masterfully evoked here.
Killing Daniel is a work of arresting clarity that manages to be both realist and fanciful, dealing with ugly matters in beautiful prose. It is urgent, unapologetic and brave, much like its main characters and, I suspect, its author.
AJ Ashworth – Goodreads
There are two words that spring to mind with this novel – brave and beautiful. Brave because of how Dobbs handles and describes both sex and sexuality, in particular female sexuality, within the book; beautiful because of the language, which is poetic, inventive and fresh: sweat on a character’s head, for example, is not just beaded; it is a page of Braille. Dobbs has a forensic eye and is able to make us stop in our tracks to visualise what she is describing. And this has the effect of slowing down time, creating a space for the reader within the parallel narratives of Dobbs’ central characters Fleur and Chinatsu…An interesting and thought-provoking read.
I found this an impressive and courageous first novel; courageous both in theme and treatment.
Its theme is evil, metaphysical and real, and the way it ramifies through time and lives, distorting the gravitational field of everyone affected…
Dobbs doesn’t shrink from a depiction of the gritty urban textures of disillusion, dead-end jobs and raw, affectionless sex.
If this is Dobbs’ first novel, I’m expecting to be very impressed by her second.
Jean Mead, author of ‘Kate’s Secret’ – 5/5
A superbly written novel which I really enjoyed.
The description of both East and West were vivid and fascinating.
The two very strong female characters are well-drawn and stay with you after the book is finished.
I expect this author to make a great success of her chosen path.
Jo Derrick, editor of The Yellow Room – 4/5
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dark, sinister and disturbing.
Sarah Dobbs has an uncanny ability to portray character through description of an environment, associating people with sounds, smells and tastes, and using domestic objects, in particular, to convey elements of personality – a silver pen in which Chinatsu’s reflection is squashed, a necklace whose tiny links her husband, Yugi, imagines squeezing as if they were his wife’s flesh. Often, though, there is no ulterior motive to these descriptions, and we are given wonderful, pure, poetic observation:
`There are faint shapes in the sky like torn paper, edges occasionally sharking over the moon. An odd star shines through, a cyclops here and there, watching with a white-cold glimmer of ancient menace.’
Sarah Dobbs is a writer to watch.
The form (but not the quality) of ‘Killing Daniel’ is what I would describe as a “train crash”. The story starts with two disparate characters, living in the same time, but separated by gulfs of distance and society. These characters are an English woman called Fleur and a Japanese woman called Chinatsu. Having met in adolescence, they think about one another and look forward to a nebulous idea of reunion. The plot advances in opposing directions, one starting in Salford and the other in Japan.
The characterisation of both Fleur and Chinatsu is detailed and fascinating. This is a profoundly female book.
This is a very dark and frightening novel, told in short chapters and brief sentences, that pass like the shivers of bad dreams. Protagonist Fleur is living in an abusive relationship in Manchester: she manages to escape her scumfuck boyfriend, only to fall into a series of nasty and inconclusive one-nighters with various men picked up in Oxford Road bars. (One memorable opening gambit: ‘Have you ever fucked in a meat freezer? My kid brother’s a butcher. I’ve the keys to his shop.’) She has a counterpart in her old Japanese penpal Chinatsu, locked in an arranged marriage to the sociopathic Yugi, a businessman who is terrified of intimacy with his wife and gets his real satisfaction from the sadomasochistic domination of prostitutes. The novel follows the expected convergence and parallels.
Crime Fiction Lover – Marina Sofia
This book starts off with a bang – one of the most gripping opening chapters I’ve read in a while. It captures perfectly that sense of nightmare-ish unease and fear which the two main protagonists experience throughout the book. Dark, overcast, the sensation of drowning permeates the whole book, not just the first chapter.
A gritty, unusual thriller that will appeal to fans of both literary fiction and Japanese noir. I hope that Sarah Dobbs will continue to write in this vein.
Doctors of Fiction – @ Book Oxygen by Cath Nichols
There is literary depth in the novel’s portrayals of Fleur, the heroine in Britain, and Chinatsu in Japan. Both women have unusual relationships with men and their sex lives are an important part of the narrative; prostitution and sado-masochism enter the mix. Dobbs writes well about the bizarre intimacy yet estrangement of sex even in its loving forms. An almost existential uncertainty arises in the married Chinatsu, who, having started an affair in order to get pregnant, runs off with her Chinese lover, Tao, to London.
A gripping read that has real emotional depth.
Lancashire Writing Hub – John Rutter
Somewhere between the contrasting cultures there is another space, that uncertain place where hopes and dreams and the real world meet, a place where a memory might be imagined or idealised.
If you enjoy complex and interesting literary fiction that asks questions about the human condition or if you just want to read a cracking thriller, then read Killing Daniel.
This is a superbly written book. It is fast paced and very gripping. Within the first few pages I was hooked and when I wasn’t reading it I found myself thinking about the characters and the storyline. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.
Dobbs creates complex characters in whom the reader can believe and whose pain the reader shares. . . a thought-provoking debut novel.
Killing Daniel is a beautifully written, exciting book. The story takes place in parallel worlds – Tokyo and Manchester – and Dobbs handles the shifts in time and geography with skill and precision. Her prose is beautiful and pacey. I stayed up past midnight to read the final chapters and, as the book hurtled toward its dramatic close, I was pleased to encounter an ending that was both terrifying and hopeful.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Killing Daniel is Dobbs’ engagement with her themes: communication, memory, and femininity. This novel appears to have been written for a PhD in creative writing, so one might expect a cerebral aspect to the book, but Dobbs pulls it off with aplomb, and never at the cost of readability. The reader discovers that although modes of communication, including mobile phones and text messages, are plentiful, characters remain unable to openly express their fears and desires. In the end it is physical communication that prevails as the most expressive and sincere. Both protagonists are acutely conscious of the sensations of their own bodies – a fact that also goes some way to determining their identity as women.
Killing Daniel unflinchingly tackles gritty issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, morality and murder, as well as life choices, relationships and friendships.
5 stars – David Cook
First off – This is a superbly written book. And not the sort of one I normally would read but I’m trying to read other genres unlike my preferred to increase my skills as a writer – especially strong female characters.
It is fast paced and gripping and within the first few pages I was hooked.
I almost consider this to be a book called ‘Opposing Lives’ or ‘Opposing Forces’ due to the ‘looming’ reunion aspect and living in two very different countries and what keeps them apart/shifting of timelines etc. This was well handled and well written. Beautiful prose.
I couldn’t wait to find out what happened as the story progressed. Sarah has the natural ability of a writer that hooks and delivers.
Bookmunch – by Fran Slater
Sarah Dobbs’s ‘Hachiko’ occurs in a Japan recovering from the recent tsunami. The protagonist is a young man whose girlfriend was working in the Fukushima Nuclear Plant that was at the centre of the natural disaster, and the story unfolds as he considers a recent adulterous tryst whilst he waits to hear news of her safety. This story plays with ideas of guilt and grief, and highlights the way feelings for a person can alter when it seems they have suddenly been taken away.
I’ll be surprised if I read a better anthology all year.
Sarah Dobbs and Mischa Hiller offer two compact tales, Hachiko and The Man who Hugged Women, stories very different in their character while at the same time showing acute observation of their subject. How can stories that take minutes to read leave you thinking for hours? Don’t ask me – ask Dobbs or Hiller.
Red Room – ‘Behind all the Closed Doors’
Equally powerful is Sarah Dobbs’ ‘Behind all the Closed Doors’, which ‘was written as an attempt to understand the grief that goes with losing a parent at such a young age.’ Dobbs doesn’t specify which – if any – Brontë novel or poem she singles out for inspiration, but the impact of her story loses none of its resonance for that. Through gradual hints and suggestions, we learn that young Henry’s mother has died. Random adults care for him, an uncle who ‘looks a bit like Dad. If Dad’s features had been smudged away like the numbers on the board’. Henry’s life has disintegrated. He goes to sleep dressed in his school uniform. In a powerful reflection of the family’s now-shattered life, he cuts his mother’s favourite book – presumably Wuthering Heights – to pieces. Although riddled with grief, the story has comic passages (said uncle, mashing eggs in the kitchen smells of ‘poo and pepper’), and captures the probing, inquisitive nature of a child’s bereavement.
Sarah Dobbs, Behind Closed Doors is easily one of the most powerful and memorable short stories I have read this year. The story of young Henry invisible inside a house of childhood grief after the death of his mother.
Words and Women