No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, March 09, 2013

2013/04: After Brock -- Paul Binding

Pete, on the other hand, positively welcomed the badger. And in retrospect was to welcome it even more heartily. This sight of this animal, eager to get over the road, to reach the safety and warmth of his or her sett on a raw yet damp night on which extra-terrestrials might or might not have visited the planet, gave him a needed sense of perspective: there was clearly satisfaction to be found just accomplishing little tasks essential to preserving existence. [location 2506]

After Brock opens with Nat Kempsey waking in his own bedroom, having recently been rescued by helicopter after getting lost in the Berwyn mountains for five days. But was Nat really missing? Local reporter Luke Fleming asks Nat some hard questions -- for instance, whether Nat's disappearance was connected to a similar episode in his father's youth, back in the 1970s.

Pete, Nat's father, is the real protagonist of this novel. His freakishly high IQ as a child, his feelings of alienation from his middle-class family, his claustrophobically close friendship with the charismatic Sam, and Sam and Pete's shared obsession with UFO sightings; these are all ingredients in a situation that spirals out of control and into tragedy. Not that Nat knew any of this 'til he himself went missing. It's Pete who has a story to tell, and After Brock reveals it gradually through newspaper reports, letters, diaries, and dialogue.

I found some of the prose clunky -- though, to be fair, that fits with the conceit of teenage diaries -- and the emotional tone curiously flat. Binding's descriptions of the Welsh mountains, and of rural life in the early 1970s, are very evocative. The novel is pacy, yet ultimately disappointed me: it's not that I expected actual UFOs, but there was a recurring shimmer of something numinous that never quite resolved.