Sleepwalk and Other Stories by Adrian Tomine (1998) 102 p.

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Fuck me dead, Adrian Tomine was a depressed young man. Sleepwalk is his first published collection, put out when he was just 24 and collecting material from his early black and white comics. It clocks in at just over 100 pages but it took me a couple weeks to get through it because virtually every story is has the bleakness and melancholy dialled up to 11. Break-ups, deaths, divorces and violent assaults punctuate a world in which the overriding theme is one of a complete failure to connect with other human beings; a pervasive sense of loneliness and depression in which all relationships are fleeting and the gulfs between individuals are ultimately unbridgeable.

Stand-outs (I can’t bring myself to call them “highlights”) include “Layover,” about a man who misses a flight and spends the day until the next one mooching about his hometown, feeling awkward about going back to his housemate or his girlfriend, wondering if anybody’s really going to miss him; “Supermarket,” about the forced interaction between a blind customer and a grocery clerk who shops for him; and “Drop,” a one-page comic about a man falling from a high road in Japan. (Interestingly, this was one where I thought I picked up a hidden layer of meaning; the narrator is describing the death of his father, who “accidentally” fell from the road; but since the father was alone at the time, how could the son know what happened? Is it perhaps an explanation he’s made up for himself to avoid the idea that his father committed suicide?)

It feels a bit unfair to criticise the stories here for being bleak, since Killing and Dying isn’t a barrel of fun either; but Killing and Dying manages a lighter touch, a sense of humour, a sense of hope, while Sleepwalk is full of the angst we all remember and love from our teens and early twenties. The constant use of a narratorial voiceover bothered me as well; Tomine hadn’t yet learned to let his art speak for itself. It’s a good collection, but clearly the work of a younger man.

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian (1977) 298 p.

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HMS Surprise was the third book in the Aubrey-Maturin series and the first one that I felt really gave a hint as to why the series is so well-regarded. It was a solid novel, beautiful in many ways, greater than the sum of its parts; a novel which went beyond the naval adventure genre and could really be considered literature.

The Mauritius Command, then, is a bit of a step back. Jack Aubrey is now living in a cottage in Hampshire, happily married and the father of twin girls, but itching for service again. He is soon lucky enough to be given the temporary posting of Commodore, sent to Cape Town and given a small squadron of ships to command and orders to capture Reunion and Mauritius from the French. This is based on a real naval campaign, and from what I understand most of the action follows history quite closely: individual battles, landings, scuttlings, wrecks, etc.

You’ll forgive me if I say that I can imagine O’Brian having great fun with a detailed map, pushing little labelled ships around, like Reverend Lovejoy playing with his trains. As always, I concede that I have no right to complain about this, but these protracted naval battles are the thing I find least interesting about the Aubrey-Maturin series, and The Mauritius Command is the least interesting instalment since Master and Commander. It has its moments: Stephen’s zoological expeditions on the islands, discussions amongst the two protagonists about capital punishment, a particularly gruesome end to an unlikeable but ultimately sympathetic captain. But The Mauritus Command is mostly tacking and yawing and breeching and squadrons, etc ad infinitum. I didn’t dislike it, but I was ready for it to be over by the last fifty pages or so.

Warday by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka (1984) 415 p.

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I wouldn’t call it “wish fulfilment,” exactly, but I think the appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction is that it’s always a fascinating thought exercise: how would you survive? What would you do? Where would you go? Yet whenever people imagine an apocalyptic scenario – be it virus, climate change, zombies, whatever – they never fail to assume that they’d be amongst the survivors. I had a greater than normal interest in the post-apocalyptic genre when I was growing up, but nuclear fiction never engaged me. Some might say that’s because I was a child of the 1990s and 2000s, and the zeitgeist had moved on, but I don’t think so. I think it’s because even for the genre, nuclear war is just too bleak: the unknowable, invisible poisons of radiation, soot blotting out the sky, cities reduced to ash… no thanks. My teenage self wanted to be looting abandoned supermarkets and building a fortress against zombies up in the mountains – not slowly dying, vomiting and losing my hair, lying underneath a door propped up against a wall.

This is also why, I think, nuclear destruction has become more interesting to me as an adult. As you become older your perspective changes; you become more realistic, more cynical maybe. You have an appreciation of the horrors of the world as something other than a boy’s adventure fantasy.

Warday was written in 1984. It posits a fictional nuclear exchange in 1988, and is set five years later in 1993. The 34-minute war takes place on October 28, 1988 (interestingly just ten days after the death of Jeff Winston in that other 1980s potboiler I enjoyed recently, Ken Grimwood’s Replay). Five years later, Whitley Streiber and Jim Kunetka – writing as fictionalised versions of themselves – set off on a journey around a devastated United States to document how much life has changed. Warday is presented as a factual account of this fictional journey.

Part of the enjoyment (if that’s the right word) of reading a book like this is finding everything out for yourself, so I won’t go into too much detail. The critical thing about Warday is that it postulates a limited nuclear exchange. Only New York, Washington and San Antonio (a military target) are destroyed, along with a number of military installations in remote parts of the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains, and several US Navy fleets at sea. Multiple weapons detonated in the stratosphere also cause a catastrophic EMP which fries most of North America’s electronics. (It’s implied that the US inflicts a similarly limited strike on the USSR in retaliation.) Of course part of this is simply expediency on the authors’ part: they couldn’t very well write about a journey across the US following a total nuclear war, because there wouldn’t be much left to write about or any characters to do the writing. But part of it is also to demonstrate precisely just how devastating even a handful of nuclear strikes would be. Even beyond the instant deaths of millions and then the slow radiation deaths of tens of millions, the American economy is completely crippled, it faces famine and is reliant on foreign aid from the UK and Japan, and the federal government has lost much of its power as various states become de facto independent. California enjoys a high standard of living but turns American refugees away from its border and is slowly becoming a police state; large parts of Texas have been annexed by Mexico; and the Midwestern bread basket states languish beneath radioactive dust storms blown down from Montana and the Dakotas.

The comparison that obviously comes to mind for a contemporary reader is World War Z (the decent Max Brooks book, not the dire Brad Pitt movie). Warday has a more personal touch, as Whitley and Jim travel around their devastated homeland and encounter problems which create their own personal stories, but the best parts of the book for me were the various fictional interviews. Two of the most interesting subjects are a Royal Navy submarine commander involved in hunting down the many “code-blind” nuclear subs who are still hiding out in the world’s oceans, unsure of what has happened to their governments, still posing a terrible threat; and the former US under-secretary of defence, who was aboard Air Force One in the critical moments leading up to the war, and survived its crash landing after the EMP.

Of course, this is effectively a hypothesised future, and there are many things about Warday I didn’t find plausible. Beyond the concept of a nuclear conflict under MAD ever being a “limited” war, I also couldn’t really swallow the idea of a secret pact between France, West Germany and the UK keeping Europe out of the war. I can buy people turning en masse to alternative medicines when real medical help is in short supply (especially under the new federal triage law preventing the waste of medical resources on radiation-inflicted patients with poor long-term survival prospects, something I did find disturbingly realistic), but the interview with a self-described “witch” is a bit daft. There’s an awkward interview with a black woman which sums up the fate of “the blacks” after the war. And I had to smile at the very American depiction of a British aid worker, who talks about how it would be simply unthinkable for the British not to help America because “one cannot fail to remember the American response during and after World War II.” In my experience the prevailing British opinion about the world wars is actually that America showed up selfishly late to both of them.

But these are all quibbles. No author’s vision of the future is going to chime precisely with what I might have imagined, and it’s also silly to say that this-or-that scenario is unrealistic; the Cold War and the MAD apparatus was insanely complex, with an immense number of variables and potential outcomes, and I’m sure that amongst the thousands and thousands of still-classified permutations the Pentagon modelled (and certainly still models), there were possible scenarios very similar what we see in Warday.

I think we forget too often, these days, that the world is still at risk from nuclear catastrophe. Probably people wilfully forgot all the time during the Cold War as well, since there’s nothing you can do about it and therefore no sense in worrying about it. But – speaking as a member of a younger generation – I think there’s a perception that as of 1990 the problem was solved. Reading up on the contemporary state of things after finishing Warday, I was actually surprised to find that both Russia and the US have massively, massively reduced their stockpiles since the 1980s; down to less than 10,000 each from dizzying heights of over 30,000 each, and of those, both countries are thought to have less than 2,000 each on active deployment at any given time. That seems reassuring until you consider what 4,000 nuclear warheads lancing down across the northern hemisphere would result in. As Streiber and Kunetka show us in painstaking detail, it would only take a few dozen – let alone several thousand! – to cause a one-day holocaust and irrevocably fuck up two major nations. Warday is very a much a product of its time, but it’s also a book that remains compelling and relevant thirty years later.

The Peripheral by William Gibson (2014) 485 p.

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Gibson’s return to science fiction after a decade of writing modern-day techno-thrillers, The Peripheral is a time travel story taking place in two different eras of the future. The first of these is the near-future American South, where teenager Flynne Fisher scrapes together whatever odd jobs she can to support her ill mother and disturbed veteran brother; an evolved version of WalMart owns pretty much everything else, the Department of Homeland Security has become the predominant federal agency, and the American economy has collapsed to the point where dealing drugs is about the only profitable industry left. The second is a far-future London, sometime in the early 22nd century, where our protagonist is alcoholic PR man Wilf Netherington. Most of Wilf’s fellow Londoners live in gargantuan tower blocks, pervasive technology has finally become indistinguishable from magic, and an unspecified collection of gradual disasters has wiped out most of the human race except the very well-off.

It’s from Wilf’s future that the time travel is initiated: a mysterious foreign technology which allows a well-connected minority (in this case, Wilf’s tremendously rich friend Lev) to communicate data with certain points in the past. One of the odd jobs that Flynne does, circa 2035, is professionally playing video games (a thread which reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game”and which does of course already happen in real life); in this case, she’’ filling in for her brother, beta-testing a game where she controls a drone nudging paparazzi drones away from an enormous tower. While doing so she witnesses a particularly grisly murder, and is disturbed that somebody would put that in a game – but of course it’s not a game, and she was unwittingly performing security for associates of Lev in the future, and now – despite the gap of seventy years – she’s an inconvenient witness.

And so we’re off, on a timehopping thriller in classic Gibsonian fashion; a pulpy plot serving as a reassuring anchor in an unfamiliar world. (Or two unfamiliar worlds, in this case.) Gibson, as always, does not spoonfeed his readers; you’re dropped into his playground and left to figure it out as you go along. Many things escaped me; others I was only familiar with because of stuff I picked up working for the BBC in the UK, such as the character Lev being referred to as a second-generation klept who lives in an iceberg house in Notting Hill. The Peripheral is full of throw-away lines like this, and even if you don’t pick up what they mean you eventually begin to figure it out from context. I particularly liked a scene where characters in Flynne’s timeline are eating cronuts; I recall an interview in which Gibson described that as working for him both ways. Either the cronut has legs, and readers in the 2030s will see nothing unusual about it; or the cronut will be a brief fad, so readers in the 2030s will assume it was yet another of his own inventions.

Either of these worlds would have been enough for one novel, but it’s a pleasure to hop between them. Flynne’s is a familiar Gibsonian vision of unequal technologies – a place where people have high-tech phones but are using outdoor drop toilets, only this time it’s America that’s groaning with poverty. It’s a place where people are dirt poor, the government is corrupt and things are getting better, not worse, but also a place with a touching sense of community; when Flynne is threatened, her extended family and friends rally around her without question, her brother’s fellow vets patrolling her family’s acreage as an amateur militia. (It has a great sense of place, too; I particularly liked her brother’s Airstream caravan where she pulls gaming shifts, down by the overgrown subtropical creek.) The future London, too, is wonderfully drawn; familiar yet alien, a playground for the rich and wealthy, eerily deserted at ground level and maintained by robots and nanotechnology. We get a few tantalising glimpses of the ruined world beyond these urban citadels, the skies criss-crossed by airships and “mobys,” the Great Pacific Garbage Patch colonised by a bizarre “primitivist” religious society.

These fascinating worlds, and the high-stakes thriller that bounces back and forth between them, is such fun that it’s easy to overlook The Peripheral‘s many flaws. Gibson introduces far too many thinly-sketched extraneous character’s in Flynne’s timeline; the plot drags out before suddenly resolving itself in an egregious deus ex machina; and the ending is the most uncharacteristically saccharine thing I’ve read since the end of the Harry Potter series. The strength of The Peripheral‘s worldbuilding certainly exceeds that of its story. Nonetheless, it’s the best thing Gibson’s written in years, and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Possessors by John Christopher (1965) 222 p.

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Well-written sci-fi potboilers by authors like John Christopher, John Wyndham or Stephen King are my literary comfort food. Sometimes you’ve had enough of multi-generational American family sagas or WWII-set Booker nominees. Sometimes you’re a bit overstuffed with beautiful prose that effortlessly reveals deep aspects of the human condition. Sometimes you just want to read an old paperback thriller about an isolated group of people facing an alien threat.

The Possessors is set in a British-run holiday chalet deep in the Swiss Alps, with an eclectic cast of characters (many with ~~Dark Pasts~~) gathered together for a few days of skiing. Naturally an avalanche cuts their valley off from the outside world, then one of the children appears to keel over dead, only for his body to vanish overnight, and then return, wandering in from the snow with a cold temperature and oddly flat and emotionless voice, etc. Before long his strange sickness appears to be spreading among the others, and those as yet unaffected realise they’re struggling against something alien and hostile. (I feel comfortable giving all of this away, since the prologue is told from the point of view of a dying parasitic alien race which releases spores through the galaxy, one of which lands on Earth.)

The Possessors naturally brings to mind the classic Carpenter movie The Thing, which of course came long after it, but was based on a short story by John Campbell from the 1930s. It also has touches of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And really, to a modern reader, it’s not going to seem all that different from thousands upon thousands of stories where a monster or monsters prey upon an isolated group of people, picking them off one by one. But who cares? Christopher knows how to write a compelling, engaging thriller that sucks you in and makes you miss your stop on the tram.

There are some odd aspects to the book; I welcome Christopher’s attempts at rounding out the characterisation (never a sci-fi writer’s strongest point) by switching the viewpoints between various characters and introducing us to their personal lives when they’re not on holiday, but it dragged a bit when the the group was still dwelling on their own messy dramas even as the threat becomes truly dire and the novel approaches its climax. And I may be something of a problem drinker myself, but I was gobsmacked that even as the group dwindles to a handful of people and is at the point of nailing up the doors and windows, they still drink enough to kill a herd of elephants – and in fact Christopher details precisely what everyone is drinking all the time, which made me wonder if he wrote this while trying to stay on the wagon. I also thought the characterisation of the Swiss house staff as ignorant peasants (Swiss, really!) was amusingly British.

Despite that, and despite an ending that’s possibly a bit too neat and quick, I enjoyed The Possessors a lot. Does what it says on the tin. I wouldn’t recommend people go out of their way to find a copy, but if you chance across it at a library or second-hand bookstore, by all means pick it up.

Clade by James Bradley (2015) 153 p.

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“Clade” is a term in biology used to refer to all organisms, dead or alive, which descended from a common ancestor. In that sense all of humanity is a single clade; in another sense, I think – although I’m no scientist – all life on Earth is.

James Bradley’s novel Clade follows a single family, along with their friends and connections, through several generations of catastrophic climate change in England and Australia. It begins in the present or near future, with a young couple, Adam and Ellie, trying to conceive their first child. By the time their daughter is a teenager, Sydney is facing rolling blackouts, constant bushfires at the fringes, an influx of refugees; by the time their now-estranged daughter has her own child, with Adam travelling to England to look for them, a gargantuan tropical hurricane is about to swamp the once green and pleasant land. Clade uses the common trick of following a single family to tell a story spanning many decades, with the scope rarely expanding beyond Adam and Ellie’s family, but this only serves to highlight the importance of the title. We may be focused on ourselves and our kids, we may have ape-brains that can’t concentrate on gradual threats or the hypothetical humans beyond our immediate circle, but we’re ultimately all one clade – men and women, birds and bees, species and planet – and we’re all in this terrible mess together. Even if, as with many of the characters in Clade, we often feel terribly alone.

Bradley is a good character writer; he’s not a sci-fi novelist by trade, and Clade slots easily alongside the skilfully polished contemporary sci-fi of Kim Stanley Robinson or Margaret Atwood. In some ways the accelerating catastrophes being visited upon the Earth are a mere backdrop to Adam and Ellie’s lives. This worked, for me anyway, because in some ways climate change will always be a mere backdrop. The main characters are Australian, and we know that living in a first-world country means they’ll be spared the worst of an increasingly bleak century. One of the strongest chapters in the book occurs when Ellie, approaching old age, encounters a Bangladeshi “illegal” near her property in the country; through his story, we catch glimpses of what his life has been like, fleeing rising sea levels and collapsing economies, reaching a bitterwseet sanctuary in Australia where he must eke out a living while avoiding the attention of a xenophobic, authoritarian government. Clade is a slow-burn illustration of what only a few degrees of climate change will result in: crop failures, economic meltdown, the extinction of species, the mass movement of refugees. Australia, in this fictional world, adapts and survives. Other countries perhaps do not. “When you see the news out of England,” an ageing Adam tells a younger character, “it’s easy to forget it used to be a rich country.”

Clade is largely characterised as a climate change novel, and it is, but it’s more than that as well. Bradley paints a plausible sci-fi future, not just with small details like the genetically engineered trees planted across England earning the nickname “triffids,” but in matters that are entirely unrelated to a world adapting to climate change – which is good, because any novel set generations in the future needs to recognise that small shifts in technology can create sweeping changes. (Somebody from even ten or twelve years ago, for example, would be perplexed by how everybody these days is always staring at their phones.) I particularly liked a chapter set after a devastating plague, following a character who works for a Chinese company which makes virtual sims based on social media footprints of people’s deceased loved ones – an uneasy line of work which verges on exploitative, especially when one of his clients asks him why he hasn’t made one of his own dead mother. And in the penultimate chapter Bradley touches on an entirely different genre of science fiction – one which I won’t spoil – but which rounds out the novel very nicely, bringing things back once again to the concept of the clade.

There are plenty of other sci-fi climate change novels out there, but what I particularly liked about Clade is that it’s emphatically not an end-of-the-world book. Humanity survives, humanity gets by; especially those parts of humanity fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries. But at what cost? One of the saddest moments in the novel, for me, was when a young girl many decades in the future is walking through an eerily silent forest, and then downloads a soundtrack from the internet of what the forest used to sound like – before most of the birds went extinct. Human life goes on, but human life is not the only thing that matters. We’ve deeply ravaged our own ecosystems and made the world immeasurably less healthy, less diverse, less beautiful. Bradley touches on all of these things without ever feeling preachy or moralising. Clade is a compelling, thoughtful vision of our planet and our species fifty years into the future.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (2015) 114 p.

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A father and his two young boys in London are bereft after their wife and mother’s unexpected death. In the “organisational fakery” of the days immediately following her death, they are paid a visit by the enigmatic trickster figure Crow, who has come to help them move forward – not move on, because as Crow says, moving on is for idiots. But move forward, puzzling out and understanding and coming to grips with their collective grief.

This is one of those Critically-Acclaimed-Books-of-the-Year which comes with blurbs from half the literary establishment plastered all over it. I can’t say I would have picked it off the shelf at a store if I hadn’t read what seems like a billion glowing reviews, but I certainly thought it was worth my time. Part novella, part prose poem; it’s very nice, very sweet, sometimes funny and sometimes moving. I may not have had the patience for it if it went much beyond its 114 pages, but as it stands, it’s a beautiful little book.

I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.

Eugh, said Crow, you sound like a fridge magnet.

– From “Grief is the Thing With Feathers,” by Max Porter

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett (1990) 243 p.
Discworld #10 (stand-alone)

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This is a bit of an odd one. It’s the second stand-alone in the series after Pyramids, revolving around the discovery of film by the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork. Spurred on by a newly-released hole in reality in the sunny beachside locale of Holy Wood, the Discworld soon has a thriving movie-making business going on. The main character Victor Tugelbend – student wizard, unexpected movie star and certainly one of the most forgettable characters Pratchett ever wrote – begins to uncover the origins of Holy Wood, the ancient civilisation that once lived there and the terrible danger sleeping beneath the nearby hills.

Looking at the series as a whole, Moving Pictures seems to foreshadow the twilight years of the Discworld – what some people think of as the Industrial Revolution novels, when many books would introduce new technologies or developments to Ankh-Morpork: the clacks, the newspaper, a post office, a banking system, etc. The difference was that while in each of those later books the new technology stuck around and formed part of a growing, broader fictional world, Moving Pictures may as well end with an Everything’s Back to Normal Barbecue.

It’s notable for the introduction of a few long-term characters – Gaspode the talking dog, who if memory serves will return in Men-at-Arms; Archchancellor Ridcully, the crossbow-toting new leader of Unseen University who regards most of his lazy, overweight faculty with open contempt; and that same unnamed faculty, with ludicrous professors like the Lecturer in Recent Runes and the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Oddly, the faculty aren’t introduced until about three quarters of the way through the book, and then play a part in the climax only to disappear entirely, not even worth an appearance in the sort of post-credits montage that makes up the final few pages. Yet Pratchett clearly liked them, since they’re important characters in the next book, Reaper Man. I can’t help but feel they were shoved into a late draft. We also see Detritus develop into a more complex character, although he’s still a long way from his future as a sergeant in the City Watch.

Moving Pictures, on the whole, feels too much like an excuse for Pratchett to write a bunch of jokes about the early decades of Hollywood. I actually began to find myself a little bored while reading it, which is not something I ever expect of a Discworld novel. The climax, in particular, was tiresome: creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions break through the silver screen and we have a reverse King Kong spoof as an enormous monster in the shape of a woman seizes the Librarian and climbs to the top of the Tower of Art with him. Very droll – but by my count that’s now four books revolving around the Dungeon Dimensions, three of which culminate on top of the Tower of Art.

There’s a moment in Moving Pictures where Dibbler (one of the better parts of the book – neatly going from hot-dog-selling entrepreneur to a profit-obsessed film producer) tries to explain how film works to the Patrician; Vetinari, however, has no interest in “how things work,” only in “how people work.” I think that’s true of Pratchett as well – he’s an author fascinated by human nature, by how people tick, by how we relate to each other. So I find it puzzling that even ten books into the Discworld series, when he’s already proven himself capable of writing compelling human villains (as in Pyramids and Guards, Guards) he keeps falling back on the hoary Lovecraftian trope of horrible monsters from another dimension. There’s also a lot in there about the magic of cinema and the power of human belief, the latter being one of Pratchett’s most recurrent themes, but it never solidifies into something that feels purposeful; it never seems to be elevated beyond, as I said, a bunch of jokes about Hollywood looking for a plot.

Rereading Discworld Index

The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps by Michel Faber (2001) 66 p.

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This is quite a short book, somewhere between a novella and a long short story. My library ebook edition turned out to have a preview of The Book of Strange New Things taking up the final third, so I was a bit surprised when The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps ended quite abruptly on page 66.

Under the Skin was a brilliant debut novel and a hard act to follow, and The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps does unfortunately have a touch of sophomore syndrome to it. Haunted by repetitive nightmares, archaeology student Sian joins a dig at the old abbey in Whitby, Yorkshire. Here she meets an arrogant medical student from London named Mack, who shares with her an old parchment in a bottle his late father found in the foundations of a local building. Their relationship grows as they try to safely extract and decipher the message within, which turns out to be a confession about a centuries-old murder. So The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps is part romance, part historical mystery. It reminded me, on reflection, of J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country. (Which, funnily enough, I reviewed exactly a year ago to the day.) Both are short books are about a memorable time in a person’s life, in a place they don’t normally live, visiting for a very specific task; the time and place unusual only in that it’s unusual for them, breaking them out of their normal routines and leaving them aware even as they live that time that it’s quite ephemeral. That was long-winded; I’m sure the Germans have a word for it.

Anyway, I found The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps engaging enough while I was reading it but not particularly memorable. It felt very much to me like an uncertain second novel after the huge success of Faber’s debut.

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