Monday, 23 February 2015
Mainlander by Will Smith
Jersey isn't a very large island, it's the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else and everything they're up to, where locals are apt to close ranks and incomers will always feel left out. Certainly schoolteacher Colin Bygate feels this way - and every time he gives his name, people know him for the Mainlander he is, and he feels it just a little bit more.
When he first married a local girl, he fell in love with the place but now it's beginning to feel claustrophobic. Brooding over an argument with his wife, he interrupts a possible suicide attempt by one of his pupils, and although he drives the boy home, he then goes missing. Colin feels the matter should be investigated but neither the school nor the boy's parents seem bothered. Their unconcerned attitude strikes Colin as bizarre and, despite the risk to his career and marriage, he persists in trying to track down the boy.
But Mainlander isn't just Colin's story. There's his dissatisfied wife Emma, flash hotelier Rob de la Haye, with whom she once had an affair, and Louise, who had a one-night stand with Rob, has now been dismissed from the hotel and is looking to add a little blackmail to her pay-off. Add to them a couple of petty crooks looking to make a quick buck on a cosy, crime-free island and you've got half a dozen plot lines crossing each other, coming together, moving apart, joining up again; sometimes quite comical, sometimes nail-bitingly tense.
The book's blurb concentrates on Colin so when the story started spinning in different directions, I was at first a bit wrong-footed and left wondering where the story had leapt to, but ploughing on I began to get a feel for it; it's almost like having several inter-related short stories unfolding at the same time - a bit like Love, Actually or Robert Altman's Short Cuts. This all of course makes it difficult to pin down what style of book this is or what it's about - comedy? thriller? incisive look at a troubled marriage? A bit of all, at one point or another.
There's always the risk as well with a multitude of storylines and characters that the reader might find some more interesting than others - I know I did. Both Colin's and Louise's stories held me more than the others, both ending in tense, dramatic circumstances. Rob, on the other hand, provided light relief, though with his obnoxious attitudes and total lack of redeeming features, and I was just waiting for him to get his comeuppance.
You might be aware of Will Smith (the British version, not US) as actor and writer from The Thick of It, and this is his first novel, set far away from Malcolm Tucker and Whitehall politics. It's good, mainly well-written, though the dialogue is often better than the narrative and the action better than more introspective passages, and I'm intrigued to see what he will come up with next. I've hesitated and quibbled over the star-rating but gone for a slightly generous 4, as I feel it's a re-readable book.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction,