Karl Geary’s debut novel is a bittersweet tale of love and hardship. Geary delicately explores the divisions between young and old, working-class and well-off, and, heartbreakingly, the division between dreams and reality that further widens as the novel progresses.
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Interested in what I was reading, a friend asked me to summarise this book as simply as I could in one sentence. I struggled with this request. I enjoyed this novel for many reasons; it was difficult to condense everything I wanted to say in one line, and I found myself stupidly answering, “It’s just about two guys who wander around Essex and London.”
Combe: Noun. A short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England.
This is the word that I learned from reading this novel, so it seemed a good place to start. This novel, the first from Thomas Maloney, is one that is perennially concerned with place. From the title onwards, the reader is always aware of the space that the narrator, the young, distant and bespectacled Sam Browne, finds himself. The chapters deal out a series of snapshots of the narrator’s life, defined by where he was at the time: London is a grey town of loss, the Yorkshire Dales are wild and (naturally enough) unable to provide solace, the titular combe is a hermitage of life and growth.
And it’s never just the setting – the narrator repeatedly sets the scene through the weather too, providing the reader with a Great British tour of weather, throughout the bitter Winter onwards. Just as with place, the weather is a constant companion to the reader, and there’s never a point where they don’t know what it’s doing outside. (more…)
Joseph O’Connor is right about this book: the opening sentence truly is remarkable. First lines are tricky things – they set the tone for the rest of the book, and Alan McMonagle has managed to write a triumph: “I am the cancer-ridden only son of a dangerous driver who has thoughts about turning herself into a man”.
See what I mean?
When watching shows like Black Mirror, you are often thrust into immediate alienation from the setting. Perhaps this distance, this immediate self-differentiation, makes such shows easier to digest, despite their clear commentary on today’s society. Luke Kennard’s ‘The Transition’, on the other hand, begins quite the opposite. The protagonist Kyle seems relatively normal – relatable even, to a ‘millennial’ audience. But at some, unidentifiable point things begin to shift, reminding us exactly why dystopian fiction can be so powerful.