Contact Paperback – 11 Feb 2010
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An exceptional talent. This is a great book, a delight, a gem. (The Bookseller)
Affecting, carefully drafted, quietly tumultuous (TLS)
The reader concentrates only on the foregrounded emotion - an effect that most state-of-the-nation merchants would give their eye teeth to achieve (The Independent)
About the Author
Jonathan Buckley is the author of five novels, including Ghost MacIndoe and So He Takes the Dog. He lives in Hove.
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Sam's violent nature is exposed again and again, but never in front of Aileen. The threat escalates, but then, quite suddenly, Sam disappears again, crucially on the day they had agreed to have a DNA test.
There is a betrayal, of a kind, that brings Aileen up to date with what has been going on, but with Sam out of the picture there is no real resolution of the problem. Was Sam Dominic's son? Your guess is as good as mine. The book is heavy with incident, but also quite thick with matters that don't bear on the central problem. It feels like a longer, more sluggish read as a result. However, there's no doubt that it deals with the central problem with some thoroughness and energy. Because there is no resolution I felt the book was both true to life, and somewhat disappointing. In that sense, we don't (hackneyed phrase I know) get "closure."
But I did and though I didn't find anything new in the characters - the stranger, Sam, is a disturbed Iraq vet (another cliche in the making), the main character, Dominic, a prim, lifeless shell - there is some good writing. What is most interesting though, are Buckley's attempts to understand how past events work on the mind. He captures how difficult it can be to envisage yourself in them, believe that you actually were a participant, even in episodes that were profound at the time. Dominic's frustrations at being unable to find a meaning in his affair and the reasons for it (or admit them at least), are moving and beautifully put across. But 30 or 40 excellent pages of a 260 page novel aren't really enough and the book is not original or powerful enough to merit the praise it's being given.
In many ways this novel reminded me of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love - in fact of more than one of MeEwan's books - that sense of unease brought in by the stranger, whose role in the story is to shatter the assumptions our lives are built around, to bleakly make us reexamine who we are.
A harsh, despairing book in many ways - but also containing compassion. There is no real villain, nor no real hero.
I'm now interested to read Buckley's earlier books - even the 'blurb' on the book's covers is muted - I'm so used to oversell that this comparative 'undersell' gave me no idea of how powerful I'd find this book!