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Crustaceans [Paperback]

Andrew Cowan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 May 2001

It is December 22nd, a foot of snow has fallen, and Paul is heading out for a small coastal resort on his son Euan's sixth birthday. Shall I tell you a story? he says and recalls the boy's birth, his first words and steps, all the stuff of forgetting, of any boy's life...

But nothing, Paul has decided, should ever be lost or discarded or buried, as it was in his own childhood. And so he confides the history of his relationship with Ruth, Euan's mother; the death of his own mother when he himself was a boy; and his father's refusal ever to explain what occurred. It soon becomes evident, however, that Euan is not in the car. Evident, too, that Paul is living alone, and that in the cliffs and dunes of the seaside resort lies the key to his story's conclusion.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 191 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (17 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340713046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340713044
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 13.1 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 626,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

The eponymous crustaceans of Andrew Cowan's third novel are not only the hard-shelled sea creatures of sandy English shorelines, but the hard-lipped, reticent characters who believe that saying nothing is preferable to stirring up any kind of emotion. It begins with a stark cold melancholy--"December and one foot of snow." Paul, once married and a father, drives to the seaside in winter, sleeps "thinly" and talks constantly to his son, Euan. Except Euan is no longer there. On route, Paul remembers his own boyhood, his taciturn, self-absorbed father, whose "eyes flared out at me, his sculptor's eyes, as if I too were a piece of metal he could twist into shape". Paul's mothering was haphazard and inadequate, making him an over-concerned parent, obsessively detailing all aspects of Euan's life with the zeal that accompanies the firstborn: "I was always too keen to instruct you, and too conscious by far of the life you'd grow out of ... I treated you like history." Becoming his curator, the father collects hagstones, cowries and tellins for the son, and learns to emerge from his shell and love for the first time: "I'd never been happier, more at home in myself ... I was what you'd made me..." Paul tries to become everything his father failed to be but is haunted by his mother's mysterious illness and death, which the family refuses to explain. The absence of mother and son are delicately balanced with the reader experiencing some of Paul's frustration and bewilderment as the author withholds the reasons for Euan's absence until the novel's close. The intimate second person address makes Euan pressingly alive, "For you there was only ever what next", although Paul's relationship with his wife Ruth is less well drawn, making the character's isolation even more complete. Crustacean's understated power lies in its ability to show how rigorous self-preservation can inhibit one's capacity for love. --Cherry Smyth --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'This spare, yet beautiful novel is an intense meditation on isolation and the fragility of love ... The emotional fluency of Cowan's writing is compelling, and the narrator's search for answers to his psychological collapse also becomes the quest of the reader ... Crustaceans is so well crafted that the catharsis of the well-rounded ending at the seaside made this reviewer cry.' Observer

A story written with much delicacy and the quality of the writing is superb. A truly heart-rending tale by a master craftsman (Publishing News)

'Crustaceans is an elegantly written exploration of grief that unwinds its secrets slowly, achingly and inexorably until the bitter conclusion.' James Eve, The Times

The emotional fluency of Cowan's writing is compelling (Observer)

'Cowan's portrayal of a father's grief is heart-wrenchingly real, and is enhanced by his ability to bring background characters and events to life. Sketched in a few sure strokes, the hunched teenagers in Puffa jackets, bored in a playground, a small child's stubborness, trust and concentration, and the abandoned feel of an out-of-season cafe, all spring vividly from the page.' Pam Barrett, Sunday Times

An elegantly written exploration of grief (James Eve, The Times)

Cowan's portrayal of a father's grief is heart-wrenchingly real (Pam Barrett, Sunday Times)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique and beautiful novel 21 July 2003
This follow-up to Cowan's much talked about first novel, Pig, will not disappoint. It follows the same quietly disturbing style, which won't knock you off your seat but will linger in your mind a long time after your'e done reading. The basic story is of a man, Paul, recalling the life of his son Euan to him, which has, as it becomes all too apparant, tragically been cut short at the age of five. But what unfolds is also the story of his own life, his childhood, his relationship with the child's mother. Unlike many i have read recently this novel contains characters which are so real you care about them.It actually has the power to evoke emotions not only in the drama of the big events, but in the small everyday things which would normally be taken for granted.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Near Perfect Work 21 Jun 2001
By Jay Gee
It is becomingly increasingly rare that one comes across a writer who is able to handle a difficult subject matter with a touch that is so adept, so understated, and yet so powerful in its ultimate execution, that when you do come across an author who is clearly an unheralded talent, you want to shout it from the rooftops.
This book is extremely powerful, and incredibly moving, and yet it is a tale of such simplicity and sparseness that you read it voraciously. In brief, it is a man's gentle lament for the death of his young son, the death of his marriage, and the death of his youthful ideals. But what makes the whole thing emotionally bearable is the assuredness with which Cowan weaves his tale. I've not read anything as good from a newish writer since Ronan Bennett's 'The Catastrophist', a book which is very similar stylistically, most particularly in the ability of the the writers to sustain an even and emotionally charged tone, without ever resorting to sentimentalism and cheap effect.
Most definitely the best book I have read this year, if not the best I've read since 1999, when The Catastrophist came out. Well recommended.
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By A Customer
Crustaceans is Andrew Cowan's third novel, and in writing it he has fulfilled the early promise shown in his first novel Pig. His particular skill is carefully crafted emotional tension and the story of the tragic loss of an only child is an ideal background for this kind of writing. The story of Euan's life and death is very gradually and tantalisingly revealed through his father's memories. Poignant and utterly convincing, the emotion of this book will grasp you by the throat and not let you go.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars emotive subject, poorly handled 22 May 2003
having recently lost my son i approached this book with a mixture of caution and hope thinking that it might be able to provide me with some comfort. unfortunately the book is too cold and clinical and doesnt get anywhere near to the heart of the pain and grief that comes with losing a child. thebook crawls along at a snails paces and is quite boring despite the subject matter. all in all i was left extremely disappointed
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Sad lives and deaths 29 Mar 2004
By Manola Sommerfeld - Published on Amazon.com
Paul is the narrator. Every chapter alternates from one timeline to the other. First chapter tells of Paul starting a pilgrimage of sorts on what would have been the 6th birthday of his dead son. He is going to the seaside town where he died, and where Paul lived some of the few moments of happiness in his life. Chapter 2 reels back to his days in art school, where he met his wife Ruth, and where his days of true happiness began. Paul had a very sad childhood, among secrets and hidden feelings, his mother dead and his father emotionally absent. The death of his son gives Paul an opportunity to reflect on his losses. As tragic as his pilgrimage is, it ends up on what to me sounds like a hopeful note of acceptance.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intimate journey 9 July 2002
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on Amazon.com
Andrew Cowan's newest novel begins in sadness: the narrator Paul addresses his dead son Euan with a muted sorrow that finds the beauty in the most simple of scenes. This quietly emotional novel continues on a journey of the past to explore Paul's relationship with Euan as well as with others integral to his life, including his own father. Illuminated by his grief for Euan, Paul's life comes into sharp focus as the author leads the reader inexorably to the conclusion.
This is a purely literary work, recommended for those who love language and the meanings of gestures, who like to discover greater truths through the details of ordinary lives. Cowan's prose is lyrical yet clear, at times self-conscious but always impressive. His abundant talents for literary fiction are on full display in this book. However, if you are searching for an uplifting book with a compelling plot, I recommend that you look elsewhere.
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