Whenever a book drops through my door I am always, without exception, excited and grateful. The arrival of Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait , however provoked even more excitement than usual. Having seen this on several ‘One to watch lists’, including Siobhan’s, @TheLiteraryAddict, then I had high hopes. I wasn’t disappointed.
The novel centres around the character of Tom, who has returned to the island of his birth, Litta after many years absence.
On this Hebridean island 20 years ago, when Tom was 8 years old, his father killed the rest of his family and then took his own life. Losing his mother, father, brother and baby sister, Tom was the only survivor; found huddled and terrified in his parents wardrobe.
Trying to run from his past, wrapped up in his own guilt and anger Tom has stayed away. But now, unable to lay the past to rest he returns, quite unannounced, to try and piece together what made his father, this seemingly quiet, stable family man commit such a terrible crime.
This is a story which has a truly awful event at it’s heart but the focus is on the before and after of this event. And the cause and effect of the tragedy is beautifully, slowly revealed.
It is the feeling of community that pushes at the sides of this novel. The community that welcomes new comers but equally holds them at arms lengths, unwillingly to disturb a delicate balance between conventionality and morality. It is a community struggling to come to terms with such senseless violence in it’s midst, keen to look for a simple answer to a difficult question. Not quite ready to look beyond the obvious and probe deeper into a families life and a man’s character.
When Tom returns the events, so long buried, but certainly not forgotten, come back to the surface and it is not only Tom who is forced to question what happened and their own part within.
Malcolm, Tom’s uncle, brother of his father, looks back not just to that time but to his own childhood and the way his family relationships developed. Neighbours start to question, albeit internally their own role and responses to the family. And the truth about Tom’s parents relationship is slowly pieced together.
The skill of this book lies in it’s paradox. For a book that has such violence at it’s heart, there is a real air of normality and gentleness about the setting, character and prose. The horror of what has happened is rationalised and cloaked in a conspiratorial silence, all too familiar in cases of domestic violence.
Through skilled and lyrical prose Rebecca Wait builds a powerful portrait of a marriage steeped in control and tension, a warning against silence and inaction. It tackles head on the way abuse, emotional, financial, physical, moves from generation to generation, eroding confidence and becoming blunted and normalised by those in the thick of it and on the fringes.
Given the subject matter, to say that Our Fathers is easy to read sounds glib and inappropriate. And yet it is. But it is east to read not in a light way, but in the sense that story is cohesive. It has an organic flow. It is populated with believable, ultimately flawed characters, brought to life through thoughtful dialogue.
This novel is about much more than one terrible event. It is a representation of the events leading up to and following that event. It shows how shocking events are rarely one off, out of the blue incidents, but that they are the culmination of other more complex and often harder to resolved events and feelings.
This novel focuses on psychology. The psychology of families, of love, control and abuse. And importantly the psychology of community and it’s responses to the actions of individuals within it.
Our Fathers – Rebecca Wait was published on 23rd January by RiverRun
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