In her TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores the power of storytelling to shape the narrative of a group of people. To know only one story, one version of events, is to remain ignorant, or worse. In Spark, Alice Broadway’s second novel and a follow up her to her brilliant Ink, we witness this very power in action. Leora Flint now finds herself exiled from Saintstone and sent to live among the Blanks in Featherstone. Readers of Ink will know that Broadway’s world consists of the marked, those who have their life stories inked onto their skin, and the less fortunate Blanks, people who have been ostracised because of their lack of marks and who, rather ominously, have been resettled. Leora has grown up listening to stories about the threat posed by the Blanks – and now she finds herself living among them.
As with Ink, fables play a significant role within this second novel. Broadway plays with familiar narratives, twisting the details to show just how effectively stories can be used to manipulate their listeners. These tales are used to justify a society’s set of beliefs and, cunningly, the fables in Spark are, as Leora comes to recognise, ‘like a mirror image, or a reflection in water’, of those we’ve heard first in Ink. As events progress, and as she witnesses life amongst the Blanks, Leora is forced to question everything she has been told, and the taut plot mines ideas of trust and manipulation to devastating effect. What Leora can believe, and who she can rely upon, is brilliantly ambiguous to the end and once again shows Broadway to be a master story-teller herself.
Adichie concludes her talk by reminding us that ‘stories have been used to dispossess and malign, but stories can be used to empower and to humanise’. Broadway’s Spark shows us the impact of both – and it also reminds us that stories, beautifully constructed and told with a distinct voice, can also take our breath away. Put simply, this is a brilliant follow-up to Ink.