Fiction Reviews


(2021) Chris Beckett, Corvus, £16.99, hrdbk, 294pp, ISBN978-1-786-49935-6


A would-be author has taken time out from life in the city to live in a cabin by a river and write a novel. And not just any novel. A novel that will avoid all the pitfalls and limitations of other novels, a novel that will include Tomorrow. At first these new surroundings are so idyllic that it's hard to find the motivation to get started. And then, in all its brutality, the outside world intervenes...Ranging constantly backwards and forwards in time and space, Tomorrowbecomes a restless search for meaning in a precarious and elusive world.

Chris Beckett has been one of my favourite writers since I read his second novel Marcher, and it is fair to say that Tomorrow continues the slow-mellow, vibe that started in his novel Beneath the World, A Sea which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. One of Beckett’s strengths, particularly in his short fiction has been extrapolating modern life and doing the “what if?” trick. That has extended into some of his novels like America City which is a post-Trump/post-climate change novel, and Two Tribes which is a post-Brexit novel, but like all good writers, Tomorrow sees Beckett taking a different path, giving us something very different from those two novels, and I have to admit I did baulk slightly at the prospects of reading this. Why? Well, I am a self-confessed, reluctant reader, preferring books that have plenty of narrative drive. cliff-hanger-endings and short, snappy chapters. And while you can argue that there is a fair degree of cliff-hangerness going on, considering the scrapes our protagonist gets into, as well as plenty of narrative drive given the way that Beckett has chosen to unfold his tale, you certainly aren’t going to find much in the way of short, snappy chapters in Tomorrow as it is a novel that spans 292 pages and is made up of three parts. Part one is 'The River', part two is 'The City', and part three is 'The Tower': three parts, but no chapters, gulp, but fortunately there are plenty of narrative breaks as the action switches between time and location, almost dizzyingly so.

The title of Tomorrowcomes from a conversation between Beckett and his wife, Maggie, that began with him saying that he would stop prevaricating and definitely start a new novel tomorrow. Good idea she agreed and a good first line to start with, thus, the book begins with “Tomorrow, I’m going to begin my novel”. However, in order to do that, our would-be author has to escape all the things that are holding them back, lifestyle, the limitations and barriers being erected to prevent them doing this, but it isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds as Beckett moves the narrative between the past, present and future to show us the protagonist as a student, to time in isolation in a cabin beside the river trying to write “that book”, to time as a captive of left-wing guerrillas, to…well, that would be telling, no spoilers here.

Apart from dabbling with time-frames, Beckett draws the reader in through his description of the surroundings and encounters with strange mythical creatures as well as observations on literature and debates with friends on the purpose of life – is there a purpose, is it worth trying, can you really make a difference? All of this creates a compelling narrative that hooks the reader until the end, and even then there is a slight sting in the tale.

Tomorrow is a great, easy read, despite the lack of chapters, thanks to the quality of Beckett’s prose as his protagonist struggles with life and tries to write a book that could have been called The Distant Tower, The Captive God, Here and There, and may, possibly, hopefully, be called Our Lost Atlantis. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the works of J. G. Ballard, or M. John Harrison, even some scenes from 2001, A Space Odyssey With Tomorrow, Beckett has delivered more than a novel, but an experience to dive into, to be submerged by, to float on the surface of, to be carried away on the narrative flow of something different from one of the best speculative writers around.

Ian Hunter

See also Mark's take on Tomorrow.


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