Fiction Reviews

Loss of Separation

(2010) Conrad Williams, Solaris, £7.99, pbk, 302pp, ISBN 978-1-906-73555-5

A new Conrad Williams book is always cause for celebration, even though reading it is always a bit of a double-edge sword, as any writers reading Williams will probably yearn to have such a distinctive, and poetic narrative voice, but he is right up there in the top-class of essential British writers whose work should be sought out, like: Graham Joyce, Kim Newman, Michael Marshall Smith., Mark Morris, Tim Lebbon and many others.

On first glance, Loss of Separation might remind readers of James Herbertís The Survivor, especially with that cover illustration and the story of Paul Roan who is the captain of a Boeing 777 that is almost involved in an air disaster which makes him give in the job and head down to the Suffolk coast for a quite life running a B&B until he is knocked down by a car and ends up in a coma. Six months later he emerges from the coma to a whole new world of physical and emotional pain. His body is a wreck, and his girlfriend is missing. Finding her is no easy task. His body is so badly battered that he can only walk so far each day which restricts his movements and his investigation into Tamaraís disappearance. Also, he is plagued by nightmares and self-doubt and wonders what he is uncovering as there is evidence of a serial killer stalking the children of the village. Nothing is what it seems, even Paulís friends Ė Ruth victim of a sexual assault that left her pregnant; Charlie whose son died mysteriously; and Amy who can see auras around people (after her own accident) are a pretty varied and fragile bunch.

The village itself is a strange and disturbing place with its old family secrets waiting to be uncovered, reminding me of 'The Village' in the TV series The Prisoner and something worthy of Kafka, with Lovecraftian undertones heightened by its location, the reaction of some of the locals to strangers and even the effects of the weather. Due to his miraculous dice with death, the villagers now look on Paul with something like awe, regarding him as a sin eater and bring to him objects he would rather not have to burn on the beach.

Creepy and unsettling which builds to a great climax, Williams dares to tell the story in the best way he can using an absorbing experimental narrative style which is almost stream of consciousness-like in places which adds up to a superior book from one of the jewels in the Solaris crown. Recommended.

Ian Hunter

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