A slow fire is the process by which acid, found in paper, slowly eats a book from within – over decades, the pages become brittle, they start to crumble away. Eventually, entire books can be destroyed.
When author Paula Hawkins found out about the process, she realised the metaphor was perfect for the cast of characters she was at that time creating inside her third novel – a world where a group of Londoners are pulled together as their lives are pulled apart following the murder of one young man on a barge.
‘Each of them is carrying something inside – whether it be shame or guilt, a lust for vengeance, even love – which is slowly eating away at them from the inside,’ says Paula. ‘Each holds the seeds of their own destruction within them. And it was particularly apt because this is a book about books: it’s about storytelling, about writers and readers and the relationships we form over books, so it felt as though I’d landed on the perfect title.’
Paula is known best as the author of The Girl On The Train – a literary sensation (an overused phrase, but completely apt in this circumstance) on its 2015 release and a book that still plays on the minds of many of us picking up gins in tins and staring out of the windows of our commuter trains.
Again, Paula embraces her large cast of characters to show how a crime or sudden event sends ripples through a seemingly disparate group. ‘My books are often told from multiple points of view – in both The Girl On The Train and Into The Water, I had a number of first-person narratives,’ she says. ‘In A Slow Fire Burning, I’ve chosen to write in the third person, but it’s the close third person – so that means we are seeing events through a particular character’s eyes. We get to see the world through the eyes of five different people: Laura, a woman in her twenties who is struggling to manage a chaotic existence when she finds herself accused of a brutal crime; Miriam, a middle-aged woman bearing a terrible grudge; Carla, who has never recovered from a tragic loss; Carla’s husband Theo, a rather self-satisfied best-selling novelist; and Irene, an 80-year-old widow with a taste for crime fiction.’
Such individual voices add a richness to the book that extends it beyond a whodunit thriller into an examination of loss, pain and lives ruined by single moments. And made it the perfect choice for Grazia’s latest Book Club pick.
‘I loved writing all of the characters, but I think I probably had most fun with Irene and Theo,’ says Paula. ‘Irene, because she is open and curious, she holds strong views and can be quite forthright; and Theo because he’s a bit pompous and a little ridiculous sometimes. The others were perhaps harder to write because their stories are at times hard to tell – all of them have suffered terribly.’
Grazia’s Book Club gives its verdict
‘I really enjoyed the slow unravelling of the characters’ stories, seeing them as they saw themselves, and as others saw them. There was so much tragic depth provided by their histories, and I loved that they avoided pat endings, but there was a sense of redemption, even in the pain.’ Jane
‘A really enjoyable read. Every character had a story and past I wanted to know more about. A great comeback book from Paula.’ Chloe