While this novel about the post-traumatic effects of war on the lives of two different generations was a fairly easy-to-follow plot, it did lack some intensity when it came to defining the roles of the individual characters. Alice, the young woman in the story, has both a maternal grandfather, Dave, who silently lives with the troubling memories of his service with the African Rifles in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion and a boyfriend, Joseph, who has seen active duty with the British Army in Ulster. Both men come together in the story in a way that causes both to respond to their uniquely harrowing pasts. David finds in Joseph, a part-time plasterer and Alice's beau, somebody he can share little bits and pieces of his past with. Since his wife, Alice's gran, has just died, Dave needs to reconnect with those years out in Africa when he first met her and began a relationship. Joseph turns up at his flat on a number of occasions to help the old guy and eventually allows himself to be befriended by him. For a good portion of the novel the tone is rather low-key until Joseph decides to share the awful truth of his past with Alice. While on patrol in South Armagh, he was forced to kill an armed provos. It is this perturbing experience that has caused Joseph a great sense of unhappiness and moodiness about ever reaching out and truly loving another human. The explosive moment in the story comes when Joseph, after fixing up Dave's apartment, goes into a rage and wrecks the place. While Joe is a morally-complex individual, who truly anguishes over his past misfortunes, there is no sense that Alice will be able to get close enough to help him overcome this crippling burden of guilt. Unlike Dave, who has found a way to make an ugly past work for him, Joseph remains forever trapped in the dungeon of his memories so that any attempt to release him only makes him more determined to stay there. This book sort of ends on a down note where Joseph is seen as a person who needs the help that Alice is unable to give because of her own personal dilemmas. Seiffert offers a very controlled, matter-of-fact view of how emotions affect people in different ways with little latitude for change. This book is worth reading for its heavy dose of realism: The reader should be under no illusion that out of this turmoil, nothing really changes.
on August 16, 2007
The story consists of a young woman who falls in love with an ex British military guy. He suffers from guilt over shooting a family at a checkpoint and she suffers from the inability to really express her feelings.
Thus we have Seiffert's low-grade version of Brit-Sex-In-The-City where the main character spends the majority of her time, and our time, in pubs drinking and talking about her pseuo-relationship, or in her apartment discussing same, or in someone else's apartment discussing it ad infinitum. We wonder how long the character will stall, before any real plot will take place. But when you've built an entire book on the question whether or not they will really get together and work out their insecurities, when all we want to know are the exact details of the shooting, then of course it seems logical that the plot will fall by the wayside.
Why this was recently reviewed in the New York Times is one of life's great mysteries. It perhaps highlights the inadequacies of our publishing system. After all, 'shouldn't' they review an ex-Booker shortlister? Do they owe the publisher a favor? Let's be clear. Seiffert plays a strategic game by writing about post-war stress and I'm guessing she hopes that by topicalizing her subject that she will soon be invited to Oprah. The problem is the topic just doesn't make up for the rambling nature of these constant conversations where the main character rehashes the same stuff with different friends.