Invisible friends

<strong>When to Walk</strong>

Rebecca Gowers <em>Canongate, 230pp, £10.99</em>

ISBN 1841958921

Ramble is a twentysomething eccentric. Lame and partially deaf, she hides from life in a vibrant world of her own making. But when her husband calls her an "autistic vampire" and walks out of their marriage, Ramble is finally forced to confront reality.

Gowers's debut novel is a mercurial delight, a humorous romp spiked with the unpredictable and the darkly comic. But it is when Gowers ignores the plot and takes the reader intimately inside Ramble’s bewildered consciousness that the story really sparkles. Happily, this occurs regularly, thanks to the first-person narrative. Overexcited, and crammed full of whimsical trivia, knowingly bad jokes and wry observations, Ramble’s mind fascinates and charms.

Ramble is only too aware that, to strangers, she appears a "delinquent and bewildered creature". For her, the perfect friendship occurs in a book, where stories can be told and received. One cannot help but wonder how autobiographical this novel is. There are strange moments of intimacy when it feels as if she is stretching out a hand of friendship to the reader. These moments give the sense that you are Ramble's only companion. Gowers’s heartfelt novel is the perfect read for those bored with the current surfeit of cliché-ridden chick lit.