"For years they had been in a place where language had no significance" This quote epitomizes the breath-taking originality of the imagery in this novel. Astoundingly well-written (first published novel), with characters beautifully explored and delineated in meaningful ways. The journey takes us through ordinary towns and people, but each presented fully as recognisable individuals, but again with originality. The nature and deterioration of Harold’s marriage to Maureen (“she liked her toast thin and cold” is beautifully told from the startling moments of Harold’s brief early happiness, through the destruction from Maureen’s grating bitterness and daily life to the final tragedy that clamped shut any giving between them, forms the background to the detail of his long walk. A death is described with beauty and believable meaning. People’s weakness and pettiness, and attempts at goodness are lovingly developed. Rachel Joyce must have a superb love and understanding of her fellow humanity.
I found it moving and some beautiful writing, but so bleak, so frustrating that he was unable to be more assertive and express his needs, and he was such a withered character in himself – depicted powerfully by the writer. However my sympathy was engaged with him and the other unfulfilled characters – his bitter wife, his destroyed daughter, the envious, revengeful and bitter academic rivals, and his briefly involved parents - like scarecrows in themselves.
Absorbing story with believable characters, dexterous inter-weaving of plot and the lives of the characters. I found the characters irritating, particularly the central figure of Kitty, the disturbed unwanted guest. The build-up to the suicide (although was there a suggestion of murder by Kitty?) of a central character provided tension and unexpected denouement. The moral might be ‘don’t trust strange young women’, or ‘how helpless we are as human beings’, the latter referring to the failings of almost all the characters, even the apparently strong female war correspondent, although she was the most resourceful. The inclusion of a teenage daughter helped to build the plot elements, but ultimately the reliance on a happy-ever after ending for her was weak, although it did tend to resolve the sense of the negativity of life engendered in the characters and the plot. Did I read it on a bad day?
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