Well, my prognostication post could not have been more wrong! Not to worry. Here is the real thing. First up:
Hystopia by David Means. This is his first novel, though there are several other writings, mostly collections of short stories, so it is not strictly a debut piece. I find it hard to say what I make of this book. It is a novel within a novel, so that the beginning of the book is a small snapshot of how the book came to be written, there are: Editor’s comments, comments from people who knew the ‘author’ and some background notes by the ‘author’, Eugene Allen about the programme of ‘enfolding’. This is an experimental treatment for returning Vietnam veterans to help them deal with the trauma that they have undergone.
Enfolding is a drug-induced omerta, in which the veteran re-enacts the trauma while taking a drug called Tripizoid under the control of an organisation called the Psych Corps; all this while John F Kennedy runs his third term as President. So far, so peculiar…
Then the reader gets to the ‘novel’ and follows the story of various members of the Psych Corps, who are discussing various cases but are not allowed to fraternise (naturally we are following two members of the team who are disobeying this rule) and at the same time are following the playing out of a failed treatment which is the case study for one of the team, Singleton.
Singleton is also a veteran and part of the enfolding treatment which more or less wipes his memory, he can vaguely remember childhood things, but at times of extreme emotion, gets flashbacks. His illicit partner, Wendy, is the same, but seemingly for different reasons.
In the other parts of this strange novel, we are following Meg. Meg is also part of the enfolding programme, but her treatment is not quite finished before she gets picked up by the guy whose treatment has failed and who is out on the rampage. Meg is Eugene’s sister and has lost a boyfriend in Vietnam, KIAed in vaguely sinister circumstances.
When I say that these parts of the book read a bit like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, you will get the gist.
There was only one book on the Longlist that I had already read. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.
This is a very short but penetrating novel by a supremely gifted author. It is a study of the complicated relationship between Lucy and her mother, it ranges over the reasons that they have been estranged for many years.
Lucy is in hospital after a simple operation that has not gone according to plan, at one point when she is awake, she finds her mother by her bedside. Because she is weak from her ordeal, this visit opens up avenues of tender reconciliation and remembrance, instead of opening up old wounds.
The writing is spare, every word crafted to carry meaning and emotion without superfluity. A short but brilliant masterpiece from the author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys. It is a book of simply joys and is simply joyous.