I was very fortunate to receive a proof copy of The Fractured Life of Jimmy Dice, the debut novel from Ronan Ryan which will be published later this month. I first spotted the book whilst browsing through my Twitter feed and its title and subject matter interested me, so I was looking forward to finding out more.
‘My twin is your tragic protagonist. His name will be James, but to me, and perhaps to you, he’s Jimmy Dice. This is the edifying tale of his fractured life.’
From the opening paragraph, I was intrigued and gripped by the story and in particular the unusual narrator. It begins in 1980, on the day that Jimmy Diaz, and his twin, were born. But sadly, following a complication during childbirth, Jimmy’s twin dies. From this point the story is narrated by the twin as they observe their living siblings life, providing a glimpse inside his mind, and the thoughts of those who surround him. I have heard stories in the past about the connection between twins so was really interested to see this being used as a narrative choice here with the lost twin staying by his side, overseeing the drama of his life. And as Jimmy gets older, he remains oblivious to the fact that he was a twin, and as the years roll by we watch Jimmy grow and develop, witnessing the events that shaped him, and the events that impacted the lives of his family. And before long it is clear that this is an extraordinary life, and a fractured existence.
‘I’ve already lost plenty of skin, flesh, and bone. A little bit of my mind. And my heart isn’t looking too whole either. I’m not qualified to answer for the whereabouts of my soul.’
Jimmy enters the world under difficult circumstances and a traumatic birth is just the start of his often tragic story. Alongside the tragedy that takes place within his family Jimmy also finds himself in the wars, losing a limb at a young age after being attacked by a dog. And as he adapts and learns to cope with his disability, he also has to navigate the challenges associated with being a teenager – forming relationships, and finding your place in the world. And whilst Jimmy certainly faces some unexpected and extraordinary situations, his coming of age is also key to the story. Bonds between family and friends are at the heart of Jimmy Dice’s story and the book deals with issues such as love and loss, courage and redemption. As he finds himself in increasingly difficult situations, we see the importance of these relationships – the bond between parents and their children, the friends who are always there, and those relationships that can reappear when we least expect them to.
I finished reading The Fractured Life of Jimmy Dice within a day, and found it to be a book where I was desperate to get to the next page, to see what life had in store for Jimmy next. There were moments that surprised and moved me, and certain moments made for harrowing, difficult reading – particularly when Jimmy finds that he has fallen in with the wrong people. But there were also moments of humour and warmth as we get to see the man Jimmy Dice has become, despite everything, and the man he wants to be.
“No one is really who they present themselves to be and no one can be relied on to stay the way we see them.”
I really enjoyed reading Jimmy Dice’s story, and with its unusual narrative voice I found it to be a compelling read. It is a story which contains issues that affect us all, alongside those we may not see, but as these events and moments are pieced together Ronan Ryan has provided a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary life.
The Fractured Life of Jimmy Dice is to be published on 26th January 2017 by Tinder Press. Many thanks to Phoebe Swinburn for providing a copy for review.