In 1972 Byron lives with his perfect mother and his sister in a lonely house on the moors paid for by Byron's mostly absent banker father. Byron's mum drives him to his posh school in her new Jag. One day, taking a short cut through a run down council estate, there is an accident. And their perfect world, already stressed to breaking point, begins to unravel.
Forty years later Jim, newly released from the closed-down mental asylum, cleans tables in the supermarket cafe. Unless Jim performs his rituals, such as saying hello to everything when he gets home, something terrible will happen and someone will get hurt. The world rests upon Jim's shoulders. He is exhausted.
The two stories dovetail. Jim's mostly meaningless life provides a perfect counterpoint to the story of Byron lurching towards his inevitable doom.
The descriptions are wonderful. The posh world of Byron contrasts beautifully with the tatty world of Jim. The tautness of Byron's mum and her women friends was perfectly portrayed. I found more difficulty with the sordid world of the council estate. But the characters are nicely rounded. Byron's mother has a murky past - she had a show-girl mum - while her nemesis from the council estate is a vicar's daughter who seems to have few scruples about blackmail. Even Byron's dad, the control freak, is allowed a single moment of weakness. But Byron's friend, James Lowe, and his mother Andrea, a very one-dimensional. Worse, I found it difficult to believe in Byron. I couldn't work out his age. At times his naivete, and his young sister, suggested that he was about ten but the maturity of his language, his perception of underlying currents in social situations and the way he took control of situations with adults made him seem adult. At one point he becomes the carer for the family.
There is a twist on page 335. I spotted it coming before page 100. It knits the two narratives together though I found the link contrived.
This book has some wonderful prose and the sense of guilt twisting its knife to compound tragedy is classic. But it didn't quite work for me.
By the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. March 2014; 361 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57