Contact by Jonathan Buckley
|Contact by Jonathan Buckley|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: After a shaky start, the tale of a stranger’s crash-landing into a contented life is intriguing enough to pass the time. Sadly the beginning is balanced by an unsatisfactory denouement. A meaty filling spoiled by the sandwich-loaf surround.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 256||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Sort of Books|
Dominic Pattison's life began to veer off course badly on a Tuesday in May. It's a fairly banal Tuesday. The kind of Tuesday that Dominic probably experiences quite frequently. He feels the need to tell us about it.
And, sadly, not in a particularly engaging style.
Contact is not Buckley's first published novel, but the opening chapter is enough to make you think it is, and a self-published one at that. It is hard to resist wanting to hand it back to the editor with a 'please try again' note. As I am responding to a proof copy, they may well have done so by the time you get your hands on it.
The same should be said of the f-word in the first few chapters.
It isn't used gratuitously – indeed it is used to specific and precise effect. For me, however, it over-achieves that effect to the extent that I was ready to walk away. To be fair the habitual swearing is a character trait and, in the circumstances, a valid one. I do know people who speak exactly like that – and I have to put up with it. I don't have to take it in my chosen reading material. It could have been lessened once we'd got the message.
Before the f-word-wielding Sam enters Dominic's life, our narrator is content. His business is successful. He has the house, the wife, not the children but a niece and nephew as consolation prizes. He is happy.
Then Sam shows up, demanding an audience. Verbally crude, physically intimidating, and very determined, he will not take no for an answer. Sam is Dominic's son.
Or so he says.
Dominic vaguely recalls his illicit affair with Sarah, some while after he'd started living with Aileen (now his wife), but before they married. Was this the final fling that made him decide upon married life perhaps? It certainly wasn't his life's one mad passion that made him marry on the rebound. The split, as he remembers, had been mutual if not exactly amicable. There'd been no subsequent contact. No mention of a pregnancy or a child.
So who is this person claiming to be his son? Surely he'd have known?
Where's the evidence?
Sam, for his part, seems very reluctant to provide direct proof… but is absolute in his assertion. So what is he really after?
It is Dominic who relates the story, but his direct telling is interspersed with long passages in Sam's voice, telling us his history. Or at least a version of it.
Contact is the word used in Social Services' and legal circles for meetings between parents and children where normal family relations have ceased. Contact orders are made by courts to permit an estranged mother or father to see their child. Contact is what the agencies talk about when counselling adoptees about their desires to meet their biological parents.
In another context, Contact has another meaning. It is the meeting of soldiers and insurgents. Or locals and occupiers. Depending upon your point of view. It is violent, frightening, often deadly.
Now a builder, Sam is also an ex-squaddie (to use his phrase) and his battle experiences have clearly affected him. First there was the unutterable boredom of Northern Ireland tours in the latter days when the Troubles were resolving themselves into occasional skirmishes and major peace initiatives. Then there was the real action. Iraq. IED's and no holds barred.
An accent and heritage aside, it's a role we've seen James Nesbitt play (or assume we have) several times: the sensitive soul overwhelmed by horrific experience; the hard man with a glint of humour; the knife wielding poet.
The half-twist however is that Buckley leaves you uncertain throughout as to whether this is genuinely the case, or whether that image is now so ingrained in our acceptance of the panoply of recent lives, that it is open to appropriation and misuse. You're never sure which side of Sam to believe. Is he that tortured soul, or just a chancer with an idea?
Just as you (and Dominic) start to genuinely like him, a comment or an action pulls the rug and you're back to doubting every word he says. He's full of contradictions; the violence and the menace are coupled with a calm appreciation of the natural world. He has a wicked sense of humour that is only sometimes funny. And really really has a temper.
Is any of it real? If some of it is an act, which half? And why?
It's hard to classify the work. The menace is low key; this isn't a thriller. If the primary characters were female, you'd almost relegate it to chick-lit. It is about people, relationships, the lies we tell, the prejudices we hold. It is also about memory. How true is what we remember? How selective?
Stylistically simple, but after the first few chapters, which I did find off-putting, Contact does take a grip. I was never convinced enough of Dominic's worth to care about whether Aileen found out about his past or not, nor what she might do if she did. The characterisation is surprisingly superficial for the lead voice. Sam, however, is different. Intriguing. I did want to know the truth about him.
That for me was the final weakness – whilst the author ties up all of his loose ends neatly, he didn't leave me any closer to understanding his main character.
All in all a readable book, after a dodgy start, but ultimately little more than a reworking of some familiar plots, newly woven, but to no real purpose.
You can read more book reviews or buy Contact by Jonathan Buckley at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Contact by Jonathan Buckley at Amazon.com.
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