The Scatter Here is Too Great
by Bilal Tanweer
As 2014 draws to a close, time to review some of the year's finest debut novels. Bilal Tanweer's The Scatter Here is Too Great is not only a contender for title of the year, it suits a fractured portrait of a city, Karachi, that is itself ruptured by violence, class, money, religion and culture. The form reflects the content: a set of monologues convincingly delivered by individuals narrating a terrorist bombing whose suddenness is almost surreal: "You see one window rip-rooted from its welded joints … You should stand up and put the windows straight." There are no clear arcs in Tanweer's Karachi. It's as if the explosion decimates any sense of coherence between people and within an individual identity. As the novel progresses, the heap of broken fragments coalesces somewhat as stories and motifs intertwine. This is a novel about fathers and sons, the burden of inheritance, the lessons of history and the challenge of loss. Vibrant and shocking, humane and ambitious, The Scatter Here is Too Great is really great.
Wolf in White Van
by John Darnielle
Being a good writer doesn't necessarily make you a good reader, at least out loud. Yet as Eimear McBride showed us last week with her A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, familiarity with a text can breed content. Like McBride, John Darnielle is a debut writer of enormous talent and the perfect interpreter of his own prose. Known to a fanatical few as the main force behind the extraordinary band the Mountain Goats, he has a gift for close observation of life's quaint underbelly, wonky humour and melancholy. Our narrator, Sean Phillips, is one for details. On the first page he recalls how his father carried him "like a child", a fine distinction that hints at the tragedy that has befallen him. There are lovely slices of wit: "My parents' room is an uncatalogued planet, a night sky presence unknown to scientists but feared by the secret faithful who trade rumours of its mystery." The novel takes this ability to see strange worlds in the everyday to illogical conclusions as Sean's imagination saves and endangers. Simply, sadly wonderful.
After Me Comes the Flood
by Sarah Perry
Sarah Perry's weirdly wonderful After Me Comes the Flood begins with a man near the end of his tether. John Cole is middle-aged and struggling to stay conscious in what seems like a drought, not just of London but the soul. The opening is navigated through images of parched, bleached earth, brokenness, incompleteness and abandonment. This is fitting as Cole leaves the city, notionally to visit his brother, spurred on by a postcard and the hope of something like normality. What he gets instead is an overheated car in a Norfolk country lane and a strange house, at once "the most real and solid thing I'd ever see, and at the same time only a trick of my sight in the heat". This strange blurring of reality and fantasy continues as Cole is greeted, first by a young girl, and then a group of older inhabitants, as if he is an old friend. The mystery circles around his name, his appearance and an old English word Eadwacer. Perry's prose is simple but vivid: part Beckett, part Hammer Horror, this is a gothic glory.