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