Wednesday, 2 March 2011

‘Loss of Separation’ – Conrad Williams (Solaris)

It feels like it was only the other day when I told you all that I would pretty much stop whatever I was doing to pick up a new book from Conrad Williams; hang on, it was only the other day... What I said still stands though. If you’re after a slice of horror that will leave you deeply unsettled (and more likely than not casting suspicious looks at strangers...) then you could do a whole lot worse than pick up one of Conrad Williams’ books. If you’re after recommendations then allow me to point you in the direction of ‘One’ and ‘Decay Inevitable’...

Williams is very good at what he does but the books of his that I have read are by no means the finished article and this, of course, means that no matter how eagerly I’m anticipating the read I can’t help but wonder where things are going to slip up (slightly or otherwise). These were the feelings that faced me along with my copy of ‘Loss of Separation’ and I pretty much had my suspicions confirmed by the time I’d finished reading. You know what though? Yet again, I couldn’t stop reading and (yet again) I’m recommending a Conrad Williams book to you all.

When pilot Paul Roan’s Boeing 777 is involved in a near miss, his nerves are shot and he decides to quit his job and open a Bed & Breakfast on the Suffolk coast with his girlfriend Tamara. The past refuses to leave him that easily though with recurring nightmares of two planes locked in a deathly embrace. Fate has another twist in store when a near fatal hit and run leaves Paul in a coma for six months. When he awakens, Paul finds that Tamara has gone and he must adjust to life in a village where the residents believe he has cheated death unfairly and treat him as a sin eater, bringing him things to burn on the beach. He has friends that look after him but there is also someone else in the village with a connection to Paul that he has still to learn about; someone who is killing children...

What is at first a passing interest in the history of the village gradually becomes so much more as Paul and his friend Amy dig deeper into the past and, by the time Paul finds the answers to one mystery, he realises there may be more to Tamara’s disappearance than he first thought...

‘Loss of Separation’ is one of those nasty little reads that stops to run its talons up and down your spine before digging them in deep and not letting you go. It’s a book that unsettles you while you’re reading it and sticks around in your head long after you’ve put it down. The best horror fiction always asks the question whether elements of the supernatural or humanity itself has the greatest capacity to inflict horror and that’s exactly what’s on show here. I’m pretty sure that ‘Loss of Separation’ is to blame for some very weird dreams of mine over the last couple of nights...

It’s a real shame then that the character of Paul Roan (you know, the guy that the whole plot is meant to hang off) is so difficult to get on with. At least, he was as far as I was concerned. The things he did and the way he behaved just didn’t sit right with me and the almost glacial pace he had to live at slowed things to a crawl. Okay, you can’t blame Paul for that (the guy had just woken up from a coma and could barely move) but it was still irritating to read, especially when he is all of a sudden well enough to do things that the plot needs doing so it can move forwards. I also found myself wondering about the pivotal intuitive leap that Paul makes. There’s not a lot to go on but he manages to make that connection anyway. Intuition or a helping hand from Williams? I’m not sure...

Having said all that though, there are points to recommend Roan as a character worth spending time with. His dogged obsession, in getting to the bottom of a couple of mysteries, pushes the plot forward and his terrifying nightmares spice things up nicely, lending a nice contrast to the dull terror of the waking hours.

Having issues with the main character is a pretty big obstacle to overcome but my experience was that if you keep at it then your persistence will be rewarded. ‘Loss of Separation’ takes a couple of seemingly impenetrable mysteries, buries them on a particularly grim stretch of Suffolk coastline and leaves them to ferment into something compelling. If you’re anything like me then you will find yourself having to keep reading to get to the bottom of things. You won’t see the ending coming either; I didn’t and it really threw me, especially the climactic scenes where it feels like everything hangs on a man who can barely hold himself together physically.

At the risk of generalisation, the Suffolk coastline is pretty grim (at least, the bits of it that I saw growing up in Suffolk were... I like Felixstowe though) and Williams totally captures this feeling of a depressing area where time doesn’t quite flow in the same way that it does in the rest of the country. You wouldn’t want to live in this village but it makes for an ideal setting for what plays out; a well constructed plot where everything fits together very neatly but with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing in the meantime. It’s not just the landscape either, Williams fills his book full of people who, for one reason or another, find themselves on the darker fringes of society and have no option but to stay there. You may find yourself feeling a little sorry for them but what they are capable of doing will leave you feeling very glad that you don’t know them in real life...

‘Loss of Separation’ is a book where its main character is the only thing holding it back from excellence. On the other hand though, it is also a book that finds it very easy to lend a real sense of stomach churning terror to the words ‘cable cutter’... You might not have the same issues with Paul Roan that I did so definitely pick this one up if you like your horror fiction to grow on you slowly but inevitably.

Nine out of Ten

3 comments:

Rabid Fox said...

Nice review. I've already got this on my wish list.

And I know what you mean about protagonists being an obstacle to loving a book sometimes. I've had to slough through more than one book like that.

Tekawitha said...

Conrad cannot sustain a story. he gets easily carried away by turgid prose. Is obviously fascinated by his own 'brilliance'.

Anonymous said...

This the same Tekawitha leaving supportive comments on CW's site? Janus freak.