review by Maryom
A young boy is running away from home. From his hiding place in an olive grove, he waits while the search party passes, then heads North across a desolate, dry plain, moving only at night to avoid detection by the bailiff and his men who are hunting him. On his way he comes across a goatherd, meandering across the countryside with his flock in search of the meanest crop of grass or weeds to sustain them - will this man too intend to harm the boy, or has he maybe found someone who will take his side against his pursuers?
Out In The Open is set in a timeless, nameless land, and reads like a cross between a coming of age story, fairy or folk tale and post-apocalyptic fiction. As the boy travels through the remnants of once fertile countryside now left dessicated and barren he could easily be wandering through a bombed-out landscape, but instead the land is parched from drought; the sun beats down relentlessly from a cloudless sky, river courses and wells have dried up, crops and trees have shrivelled and died. The goatherd and his flock, the surprise discovery of an inn stocked with all manner of food and drink, the far-distant mountains with their promise of ever-flowing water and lush greenery, and the boy's quest for a safe haven all seem on the other hand to belong to the realms of folk tale.
Did I enjoy it? Well, it's not a happy story - you need to be prepared for a grim read with this, although there is always a smidgen of hope for the boy. The evocation of heat and the dried-up countryside is masterful but the whole set-up is of a world ruled by violence, as if any goodness has evaporated along with the water. As the boy's back story is revealed, it becomes apparent that he's fleeing a life of abuse to which his father, even if not directly involved, has been complicit (in the father's defence, he may have been coerced by those higher up the chain of power, though that isn't clearly stated). The boy is hoping he can free himself from this, but what chance does he, on foot and pursued by men on horseback or motorbike, stand of escaping? It's that small chance of a better life that keeps the boy going, and kept me reading.
translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harville SeckerGenre - adult fiction, translated fiction