The author has put his heart and soul into this work and his sincerity shines through every page. It is a story of two desolate individuals - a ship-wrecked, middle-aged Englishwoman and a polite and private young African man - who have arrived in the same bland English village at the same time but via different routes in life. They are both there to `lick their wounds'. It is also the story of a country, the `broken Britain' of political rhetoric, a country in transition, trying to adjust to social upheaval, an experience to which it is barely accustomed.
Dorothy has wasted much of her adult life on a loveless marriage and then followed up this failure with two ill-advised affairs, one of which has ended her career. Now, in desolation, she has isolated herself in a smart cul-de-sac in a new development in the town of her birth. Her neighbour, Solomon, is the local handyman who passes the days doing odd jobs and washing his car. Solomon is African, unusual in this particular neighbourhood, and an attribute which makes him both conspicuous and unwelcome. To Dorothy he is a polite and friendly man and a friendship based on mutual respect develops between them. But Solomon is reticent to discuss his past. Not the author, though, as Solomon's story unfolds in all its harrowing detail. This novel reminds us (indigenous Europeans) graphically that many migrants come to Europe from corrupt and lawless lands with the hope of rebuilding shattered lives. As distant relatives (by virtue of being human), the least they can expect is a smile and a greeting.
A Distant Shore is lucidly written, nicely paced and is very sympathetic towards the plight of its suffering protagonists. However, though I recognise within the pages the drab uniformity and casual rudeness of modern England I am less convinced by the remorseless hostility and arbitrary brutality depicted. That said, Caryl Phillips's compassionate work is highly recommended, but be warned that it is relentlessly sombre and pessimistic.