’99 Reasons Why’ by Caroline Smailes

Very occasionally a book comes along that I class as a ‘reading experience’. They’re rare occurrences but are usually books that are so creative that you can’t help but marvel at the author’s skill.  99 Reasons Why by Caroline Smailes is such a book. I can’t promise that you’ll ‘like’ it but it is undoubtedly memorable.

99 Reasons Why, is the story of a young woman, Kat, who is housebound (under the directive of her mother) and who spends her days spying on the childcare centre across the road. Meanwhile, her family pursues lives of crime.

The format of this book is the first point of difference. It’s a digital novel that offers a choice of 11 possible endings – in other words, a grown-up ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. However it’s a little more sophisticated than the Choose Your Own Adventure format I remember. Instead, the conclusion depends on your mood. You’re given multiple-choice questions on colours, numbers and objects and your answers lead you to an ending. You can go back and choose another ending, repeating the exercise over and over however I didn’t (is that totally weird?!).

I may go back and change the course of Kat’s life but when I read the ending I was given, it seemed fitting. Only reading one ending flies in the face of everything my ten-year-old self did with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books but for now, just admire my restraint. From what I understand, the endings range from a ‘happily ever after’ scenario to a ‘grisly Quentin Tarantino’ outcome.

The format of this novel is obviously a little gimmicky but the brilliance of Smailes’ writing goes well beyond digital publishing tricks.

There are 99 chapters in this book – all short but serve to slowly peel away the layers of the story. Some of the chapter titles are, quite frankly, alarming –

“10: The reason why I flashed me boobs out me bedroom window on a Tuesday morning but then it all changed.
12: The reason why me mam’s a paedoplie
13: The reason why Lisa-Marie’s only gone and given the internet all her privates
20: The reason why I don’t get how fat people get so many shags
31: The reason why the truth had to come out ’bout Princess Diana being me real mam”

The character of Kat has distinctive voice. You quickly realise that she may not be the full quid (on account of the fact that she believes her birth mother was Princess Diana) but you also feel heartbroken for her – her situation is miserable and all too predictable. Stuck in a place where the norm is unemployment, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy and petty crime it’s not difficult to know where Kat’s life is heading (which highlights the genius of the 11 different endings).

“Me mam had been pregnant before, when she was a teenager. Back in them days she had to drop out of school and was thrown out of me grandma and granddad’s house and lived with her auntie on this Estate. That kid, the one me mam had when she was a teenager, was taken to live some place else. Me mam ain’t arsed ’bout it and she says that she can’t even remember if the baby was a boy or a girl…. That baby never came and that’s when me mam went a bit nuts and ended up stealing me from Princess Diana. Me Uncle Phil’d had to sort it all out.”

The language is coarse, grim and depressing. Nevertheless, it’s compelling reading.

“God’s reminding me ’bout how I made me baby fuck out of me and ’bout how I’m still a dirty whore wanting to shag Andy Douglas. Me mam breaks into me thinking. ‘Eat your fuckin’ hot cross bun,’ me mam says to me.”

“Me dad makes me belly feel sick and that’s why I love watching him eat. I love that he makes me not want to eat me breakfast, ’cause Saturday mornings are me eBay mornings and I don’t want to have to need a poo during eBay time. I watch me dad stuffing his gob and then when he’s finished he’s off to the bookies. Me mam tells him that me and her’s doing the washing…. the real truth is that me mam’s been doing the washing all week and really we get to sit at the computer and surf eBay for Princess Diana bargains till me dad comes home for his ham and pease pudding stottie.”

It will be interesting to see if other publishers experiment with format in the way that The Friday Project did for 99 Reasons Why.

5/5 I’ll be thinking about this book (and what could have happened) for a long time. I could harp on about its brilliance but instead, just read it (and at around $5.50, it’s a steal).

There aren’t many food references apart from chips and bacon stotties. No recipe needed for a bacon stottie – just shove a heap of bacon in huge round roll and stick it in your cake-hole.


19 responses

    • I’m sure I’ll be tempted to go back and read others but I found the whole story quite distressing and the ending I got was hopeful – not happy, not ‘grisly’ but sat well with me. If I do read all the other endings, I’ll write a follow-up post!

      Yes, bacon stotties are a thing! I think they are found pretty much in Ireland and England only though.

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  2. My interest was initially piqued by the whole experimental ending thing because I’m writing an interactive digital book myself so I’m interested to see the way others are using the technology. But then, urgh, too sordid for me.

    • Ohhhh – excited to hear more details about your digital publication.

      Did you get to an ending in 99 Reasons Why? The one I got kind of had Kat getting the last laugh, which I liked. Agree though, it was all a bit confronting but a very memorable reading experience.

      I haven’t read the other endings yet (I’m probably the only person in the world who has read this book with only one ending) but I will go back at some stage and have a look at the alternative outcomes.

      • It’s funny what pushes too far – I was okay with this book although I found it very, very sad. In contrast, I couldn’t get through some bits of Brett Easton-Ellis’s last book Imperial Bedrooms – there was one scene in particular that still makes me ill thinking about it (and I skipped over the bulk of it).

        The Ark looks exciting! Hope it it progressing well 🙂

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