Promising voice: Why Kirsty Capes’ debut novel ‘Careless’ is a must-read

A debut author impresses with a multi-themed work of fiction

Promising voice: Why Kirsty Capes’ debut novel ‘Careless’ is a must-read
The novel is more than just a teenage pregnancy didactic drama, exploring the delicately threaded relationship between a foster mother and daughter as well. (Representative image: Reuters)

In recent years, works from debut authors have carved their own identity in the literary space and with readers. Kirsty Capes is another name added to the list, with the author’s debut novel longlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.

Coming-of-age novel Careless by Capes delves deep into complexities of relationships and age. The story begins with 15-year-old Bess or Isabelle, the protagonist, finding out that she is pregnant with the child of her 19-year-old boyfriend Boy. Living with a foster family, this makes things difficult for her. The novel is more than just a teenage pregnancy didactic drama, exploring the delicately threaded relationship between a foster mother and daughter as well. Bess’ relationship with Lisa, her foster mother, lacks maternal comfort and security. Bess says, “We don’t hug. We’re not allowed to. It’s one of those things they teach you when you’re training to be a foster carer.”

Lisa expects Bess to be a good, dutiful daughter, while also hoping for gratitude from Bess for taking her under their care. “This is the fundamental problem with our little family set-up. Why don’t you just fucking deal with it like a normal mother instead of threatening to send me away every time I mess up?” asks Bess, hoping for normalcy in the family that she never had.

Referring to her best friend Eshal’s family, she says, “Imagine if they had me for a daughter. They’re lucky. Or maybe they didn’t luck out, maybe they just taught her how to work hard.”

Bess’ relationship with Eshal forms another prominent theme in the story. Eshal, daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, is faced with constant racism and labelled a ‘Paki girl’. “Go back to curry town,” “I can smell your curry breath from here,” is what Eshal is subjected to at school.

However, Bess and Eshal grow through life and circumstances. Bess says for Eshal, “She realised

crying doesn’t make racists feel sorry for you. So, you have to be tough instead.”

What brings the author to carefully examine and weave into words the care experience is her own tryst with being a care leaver. An advocate for better representation for care-experienced people in the media and as a PhD who has investigated female-centric care narratives in contemporary fiction, Capes calls the book “a hopeful story about the care experience and about Bess’ drive to succeed”.

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She says it is about “aspiration and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. So, it was really important for me to write about the care experience”.

A multi-themed coming-of-age hard-hitting story that triggers the readers often with instances of drug use, attempted abortion at home, troubled foster care and racism, the story unravels the cracks in human bonds yet inspires through the journey of a woman who regains control of her life and destiny.

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