Having reached the final short list for The Man Booker Prize 2012, I was particularly keen to read this first novel by Alison Moore and am very pleased I did. Strange as it may seem it wasn’t particularly for the subject matter of the story, though it was compelling and raised a whole batch of negative emotion in me. No, the reason is the brilliance of the writing, in the judging of the pathos and the methods used to achieve this. For the most part the reader is presented with short, direct, simple sentences which continuously reinforces the perception one rapidly acquires of Futh the main protagonist and his almost simplistic way of thinking.
This story reflects a slice of everyday life. A middle-aged guy, on his own, crossing the English Channel on a typical car ferry. He’s taking a circular walking holiday, part around the Rhine in Germany, over-nighting in differing establishments along the way, his suitcase always going forward of him. This is a holiday he does not want to return from, just separated, he’ll be going back to a single flat still unpacked. He thinks a lot and we very quickly become privy to his thoughts which focus a great deal on his parents and in particular his father whose marriage also broke. We learn of his childhood and growing awareness of his father’s relationships. In as much as his mother found his father totally boring, so this reflects in his own broken relationship. Moore’s protagonist is rapidly rooted in the mind as are all of the characters. This author engages all of the reader’s senses to achieve this. It’s all everyday stuff, some of it not particularly pleasant to envisage but it’s life and Moore captures the relatively insignificant which can occupy a disproportionately large space in the mind, superbly, in the telling of the tale.
We get to know Futh pretty well as he clings to the tiny silver lighthouse that was his mother’s. For me, I was getting to know this guy too well. He was inflicting too much of his pain on me, associated with his growing-up. It’s subtle, very subtle for he’s dealing with stuff not far from the ordinary but it’s the impact Moore achieves on the reader that’s so amazing. As I was reading, I’m finding this guy is irritating me no end and I’m thinking no wonder his wife left him! Then one’s getting the guilt-rush for he’s a decent bloke, the victim of ongoing circumstances largely beyond his control. But herein lies the frustration! He’s well into adulthood now so why, oh why doesn’t he grasp the nettle? I decide I have a choice. I can put the book down or continue. I’m compelled to go with the latter for I need to know if there’s a good result for this guy. Besides there are clever parallels going on and a definite sub-plot to escape into and I really want to know how it impinges on the outcome. In spite of this frustrating character, I’m driven to continue, eager to turn every last page to see how it all pans out.
Granted, I see this novel as an exploration of failed relationships and the impact resulting selfishness can have on a young boy who wrestles in adulthood with not only the props he’s created to survive whilst young but the real psychological harm unintentionally inflicted by significant others in his young life resulting in a phobic caution, to which others less sensitive might not have succumbed. Totally devoid of humour, this sad tale achieves as it draws the whole gambit of negative emotion into play. I am not sure too many authors could create such a compelling read out of what seems to me to be such miserable everyday subject matter. It’s the sheer genius of Alison Moore that keeps the reader hooked for she never takes her eye off the plot which unfolds purposefully, progressively drawing the threads together to culminate in a very tense, exciting climax prior to the denouement all of which had me totally hooked to the very last line and left me wanting more.
This is a reading experience no one should miss and for that reason I highly recommend it.
Publisher: Salt Publishing 2012
Reviewer: Margaret Henderson Smith
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