The Complex Chemistry of Loss by Ian Walthew

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The Complex Chemistry of Loss by Ian Walthew

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A thought-provoking, page-turning read which a stunning conclusion. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 340 Date: January 2015
Publisher: Bagshawe Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0993104008

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Deep in rural France James Kerr was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. His mental problems were deep and intractable. Superficially he seemed never to have got over the sudden death of his mother and sister when he was a child and after their death his relationship with his father had deteriorated because his father refused to speak of their loss. There were additional factors too: Kerr had spent some time in Afghanistan in a secret capacity. In fact much of his life since he went to university had involved putting up a front, but doing something else in the background.

Kerr was convinced that his depression arose from the relationship he'd had with his father. It had been manipulative and far from caring, but there was obviously something which he was reluctant to tell the medical staff at the clinic and it went back to his time in Afghanistan. He wanted to unburden himself, but knew that if he did so there would be implications for himself as well as for those he told. Worse still he knew that his father was involved in his fate. How could this happen to a man who went to Afghanistan as an interpreter, but became an interrogator?

I don't want you to think that this is an easy read. It isn't. Ian Walthew documents a man's descent into moral and mental turmoil as he seeks to come to terms with his past. I've long maintained that when we send men (or women) to war our greatest burden is not that we ask them to risk their lives, but that we risk their sanity by virtue of what we ask them to do in our name. As I read The Complex Chemistry of Loss I had to keep reminding myself that this was fiction because everything I read - in this book and elsewhere - leads me to wonder if, and to what extent, UK nationals were involved in torture after 9/11.

And why do I say that the book isn't an easy read? It's not because of the plot which grabs hold of you and forces you to keep turning the pages with its dual narrative of what went on in Afghanistan (and other places...) and what is happening to Kerr now. There was a lot to take in - a lot which needed to be thought about, considered and put into context. Ultimately how far do you go, how far should you go when you believe that the safety of your country is at stake? How much is intelligence gathering and how much is the base need to retaliate?

Regrettably Walthew has needed to spend time in a French psychiatric clinic and he brings the place, the methods and the staff fully to life. I felt anger, compassion and a sickening sense of futility in quick succession. Walthew places Kerr perfectly in the environment - a man who knows that he needs help, knows the mental cost of getting that help, but still knows that he needs to have an escape route. The book is absolutely unforgettable.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

I first encountered Walthew when I read A Place In My Country: In Search Of A Rural Dream, an enlightening and honest look at the British countryside. I was intrigued to see how he approached fiction and not disappointed by what I found. The tightness of the plotting, the grip on the reader and the writing which holds you in a vice-like grip put me in mind of David Vann and particularly his Legend of a Suicide when I read the final pages of The Complex Chemistry of Loss. You might also appreciate In the Name of Love by Patrick Smith.

Booklists.jpg The Complex Chemistry of Loss by Ian Walthew is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2015.

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