Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wall of Days by Alastair Bruce

André Brink has heaped praise on Wall of Days, and compared the author's writing with J.M. Coetzee and Margaret Atwood, but to me the style is more raw than that. The words are gnawed to the bone to reflect the brutality of its dystopian world. It is more akin to Cormac McCarthy's writing in The Road, or Jim Crace's Quarantine. At first it seems to be about a man relying on his own devices when civilisation is stripped away; but then it becomes an allegory about man as leader and the necessity of lies and deception; towards the end it becomes something else again. This is its final and most magnificent metamorphosis. It becomes a book about guilt: not just the guilt of one man but the guilt of all of us living on the planet today: how some of us live, and by living, kill. It is a story the amorality of us all and our hypocritical attempts to justify it. (Well, this is the effect it has had on me - of course the author might have meant something else entirely!)

The story itself is relatively simple. A man, Bran, has been banished from his community and found himself on an island that is slowly crumbling away beneath him. He counts his days by writing marks on his wall, and also assembling a field of stones. One day he finds his arch-enemy-turned-collaborator, Andalus, stranded whale-like on the beach. This is a clear contravention of an agreement that Bran's settlement has had with Andalus's, and gives Bran an excuse to return to his past. However, when he returns he finds the community that he left has apparently changed. The settlement has a strangeness which reminds me very much of the 60's TV series the Prisoner, and Bran has a similar conviction that all is not what it seems, including, in the end, Andalus. 'Perhaps the man Andalus is gone,' says the new Marshal of the community. 'but we should understand why there is that void, the void where he stands.'

The book was shortlisted for the Best First Book in the African Region for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and is one of the first published by the new Clerkenwell Press headed by Geoff Mulligan, J.M. Coetzee's editor...which reminds me of the comparison I thought of in the end: not just with Coetzee, Atwood, Crace and McCarthy but also Yan Martell. Like Life of Pi it is, most of all, an inspiring allegory.

Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book.


Blogger Paul Halpern said...

Wall of Days sounds intense and frightening. You mentioned "The Prisoner" which is one of my favorite television series of all time. I'm wondering if you've ever visited Portmeirion, where it was filmed.

Fri Sept 02, 01:45:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, it's a great book - it really makes you think!

Yes, I have indeed visited Portmeirion - a couple of times, in fact. My husband is a big fan of the Prisoner, and each time we've gone I've always tried to persuade him to buy himself a Prisoner Blazer as a souvenir (which are on sale at the shop there) but he won't.

It's a weird place, everything seems out of scale and too exotic - all of it set in a pretty little wooded valley by the sea. It makes the perfect film set, though. Whoever decided to use it was inspired.

Fri Sept 02, 07:28:00 am  
Blogger Paul Halpern said...

Interesting to hear about your and your husband's experiences in Portmeirion, and pleased that you managed to escape from No. 2 to tell the tale :-)

Sun Sept 04, 12:48:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

It was a close-run thing, Paul.

Sun Sept 04, 10:26:00 am  

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