Robert Williams’ follow-up to his excellent debut Luke and Jon is How the Trouble Started, which centres around teenager Donald Bailey.
Donald, like many testosterone-fuelled teenage boys, has problems; yet few of his peers have problems quite like his. As an eight-year-old, Donald, giddy with excitement having been gifted a new bicycle, becomes the pivot in a disastruous turn of events which forces him and his mother to flee to sleepy Raithswaite. Only Donald can’t forget the incident, self-censoring his recollection of events in a futile attempt to move on. When he befriends Jake, a mistreated child from a local primary school, he (perhaps subconsciously) endeavours to atone for his actions; it is the catalyst in an unraveling plot which, once again, has unexpected consequences.
It’s a remarkably simple story that is brought to life by Williams’ remarkably simple prose. His spare style makes How the Trouble Started an effortless read; some of the most tender, touching moments in the book are alarming in their simplicity—be it the sense of achievement Donald basks in after extra swimming lessons pay off, or the ease with which he sporadically delves into the life (and house) of his affectionate former neighbour, Mr Mole. While the novel’s conclusion is as frustrating as it is enticing, it takes little away from another strong offering from Williams.