by Chris Paling
Events and aftermaths are central to this book.
A beloved child drowns- profound grief, darkness and depression follow. The darker side of humanity hits us like a slap in the face.
A dinner party in Manhattan - snapshot glimpses of bright, successful young lives. These are lives are also haunted by unhappiness and despair. A thirty-something agonises over his thinning hair - whether to cut it or disguise it. Susan would appear to have another identity…the tales continue, all richly observed, minutely scrutinised and all disconcerting in the extreme. The sense of place is always very powerful. Then comes John's wife's murder. Susan dies horribly and inexplicably. Shockingly, she is shot in bed, with their child sleeping in the next room. Apparently the attack is motiveless. What do we imagine happens after such an event? Chris Paling takes us on the strange journey through shock, disorientation and loss. This is very compelling writing, subliminal connections mean that every reader's experience of the book will be different. The ending is ambiguous, leaving the reader to draw own conclusions. For John and those affected by Susan's death, life goes on, time passes, the murder investigation continues… When John takes the child on a trip, and both their lives descend into utter chaos, our emotions swing from pity to horror. John's world is a most uncomfortable place, and his reactions are always deeply disturbing, and often jarringly inappropriate. But how are husbands supposed to behave when their wives have been murdered? Isolation and disconnection are brilliantly portrayed. John is an Englishman in America. Loneliness rises from every page.
We long for normality to return, people to start behaving themselves and questions to be answered, but it becomes clear that John is on a very different journey. This is where disintegration follows its own strange path and John's state of mind begins to infect the reader. Perspectives shift, things and people do not appear as they first seemed and the result is a powerfully moving and haunting book.
Chris Paling's new novel, A Town by the Sea, has just been published by Jonathan Cape.
Read our interview with Chris Paling.