Electricity – on page & screen

When I was beginning to think about dipping my toe into the blogging world, there were several blogs I followed religiously including publishing guru Scott Pack’s now-defunct ‘Me & My Big Mouth’. One of the authors he championed was Ray Robinson, whose first novel Electricity was published in 2006. I quickly got myself a copy of Electricity and then Robinson’s second novel The Man Without which I reviewed here.

Alongside all my lockdown TV box set binge-watching, I’ve been catching up with unwatched DVDs. It just so happens that Electricity was adapted into a movie released in 2014, and I finally watched it last week. Straight away, I wanted to re-read the novel which I’ve now done. So, here are some thoughts on film and book, book first.

The novel begins, leaving us in no doubt of Lily’s condition, with two pages of an epileptic fit represented on the page as a collage of blurred sounds,

and here’s the breath
here’s the breeze
here’s the shimmer

[…] They’re here again.
Shadows moving all around me, breathing static breath, smell them in the buzzing as they sliiiiide their long fingers in, tickling the switch and the colours, the sweet colours are here
wrapping their arms around me like they love me

Lily is thirty, working as a cashier in an amusement arcade in a Yorkshire seaside town, when the police come to tell her her mother is dying – the mother who caused her epilepsy by throwing her down the stairs aged two and banging the back of her head, the mother who didn’t care when she and her two brothers were taken into care, separated. Her mother’s death brings her back in contact with her older brother Barry, who is now a professional poker player, but younger brother Mikey’s whereabouts is unknown. With a third share of their mother’s house sale due to him, Lily decides to head for his last known location in London to seek him out, but London freaks her out.

I was so fucking confused.
I was used to shopping in the market back home, the indoor one on Thursdays, the covered one next to the Town Hall on Saturdays. I knew the stallholders’ names and we always had a laugh. But it was nothing like this. London was a running battle. It was a pile of bodies like fat worms in a fisherman’s box.

Lily’s search for Mikey is two steps forward one step back, sometimes two back. Sylvia, Mikey’s ex is no use, nor a detective she hires. Lily tries to help a homeless girl and ends up being robbed – of her meds too. Of course the doctors she sees to get more, want to change them to something else which Lily knows will be agony. She does have some luck though when she has a fit while out, and the woman who looks after her leaves her number. Despite being chalk and cheese, Mel and Lily hit it off, she is the first female friend Lily has ever made, and Lily moves into her spare bedroom. The search carries on… and I’ll leave it there.

Having lived in a small town for so long, looked after by her surrogate dad Al who owns the arcade, Lily still has a lot to learn about life. She’s extremely forthright and resilient though, and you just can’t help but love her and be uplifted by her when things go well. Robinson obviously did a lot of research into epilepsy and seen through Lily’s eyes the fits, small and large, feel very real. Electricity is an extremely powerful novel and I’m so glad to have re-read it.

Which brings me to the film which stars former model Agyness Deyn as Lily. It’s as if the character was written for her! Deyn, (although from Manchester rather than Yorkshire) is the embodiment of six foot tall Lily in the book, and is always utterly mesmerising and convincing in the role. Excellent support comes from Paul Anderson (Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders) as Barry, Tom Georgeson as Al, and Lenora Crichlow as Mel. Some brief flashback scenes to her childhood around the time of her and Mikey being split add poignancy.

The film was made with support from the Wellcome Trust, and in ‘The making of’ feature, the director, Bryn Higgins explains how they wanted to do their sponsors proud with how they depict Lily’s fits on screen. They used special distorted camera techniques to film Lily’s eye-view as they came on – the breath, the breeze, the shimmer – and it works really well. (He admits they filmed conventionally too at first just in case it didn’t work out.)

The film follows the detail in the novel pretty closely for the most part, using plenty of the dialogue too. It only diverges slightly in the later stages as the film requires a stronger resolution than the novel. Electricity is one of those understated British films that has fallen under the radar rather, which is a shame, for I absolutely loved it and want to watch it again soon. Electricity is the rare case of a film managing to do justice to its source material.

Source: Own copies. (10/10)

Electricity by Ray Robinson (Picador, 2006) paperback, 334 pages. BUY at Amazon UK. Electricity DVD (92 minutes) BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate links)

3 thoughts on “Electricity – on page & screen

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      As debut novels go, this is one of my favourites, even better on the re-read, and I was so relieved that the film was so good! I’ve read two more of Robinson’s novels now too, both excellent – with his latest two on my shelves as well.

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