Monday, August 10, 2015

The Casualties

The Casualties by Nick Holdstock
Thomas Dunne: 8/4/15
eBook review copy, 288 pages
ISBN13: 9781250059512

The Casualties by Nick Holdstock is a unique, very highly recommended novel about change.

A major disaster is heading toward the Comely Bank neighborhood of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is referenced obliquely, as if it is common knowledge, because our narrator in The Casualties is telling us about the disaster from the vantage point of sixty years in the future. What he wants to talk about are some of the inhabitants of the neighborhood and tells us their stories. He is looking back and talking about the past, in 2016 and 2017, right before the apocalypse happens and everything changes.

The narrator tells us right away that Samuel Clark, who lives in Comely Bank and runs a charity used book store, is a murderer. Sam likes to collect bits of lives that have been left in the books donated to his shop, things like old letters, photos, airline ticket stubs. He also likes to hear the stories of the people around him. Holdstock introduces us, through Sam, to the denizens Sam is curious about, and those who are obsessed with him. The exceptional people we meet are: Alasdair, the might-be-crazy man who lives under the bridge; Caitlyn, who works in the charity clothes shop next to the bookstore and has a face that develops cracks; Mr. Asham runs a store and longs to belong to the community; Mrs. Maclean taught for over forth years and longs to die; Rita and Sean are two drunks who always hang out together at the park; Toby is an extremely obese young man who craves food constantly so he must be supervised all the time; Sinead is a nymphomaniac who watches Toby but longs for Sam; Trudy is a Filipino prostitute.

It is a narrative with finely drawn characters that are well developed, remarkable, and interesting.

Holdstock presents his story from a unique viewpoint, which sets this pre-apocalypse story apart in a category all on its own. Even while introducing us to these characters and leading us up to the murder Sam is supposed to commit, Holdstock also drops small, vague references to the disaster that will be happening, a disaster that makes all the drama he is telling us about seem inconsequential. But that is the beauty of this novel. The narrator has a point of view from far in the future, a time years after the impending disaster and all the subsequent societal developments about which he hints. He's talking about the past many years ago. The happenings in the Edinburgh neighborhood are trivial in comparison to the bigger picture. We really don't know what the disaster is until we are far along in the story and even then he does not talk about that. He talks about this neighborhood just before the disaster.

And this choice is brilliant.

Holdstock creates a tension right away because we know something much bigger is coming but his narrator chooses to focus in on Sam and this odd, damaged group of people in this particular little neighborhood. He wants to tell us a story. It is akin to hearing about now what people were doing before boarding the Titanic, or just before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, or the devastating Tsunami of 2004. A disaster much bigger than any little drama is coming, but the narrator needs to tell us this story, the story about what was happening just before the disaster to these people.

The ending might not suit everyone, but I could appreciate it in the context of the whole novel. This one was a nice surprise.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Thomas Dunne for review purposes.

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