Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park

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Set in a frozen winter landscape, the new novel from the prize-winning, acclaimed author David Park is a psychologically astute, expertly crafted portrait of a father's inner life and a family in crisis An Irish Times Book of 2018 I am entering the frozen land, although to which country it belongs I cannot say. The world is shrouded in snow. Transport has ground to a halt. Tom must venture out into a transformed and treacherous landscape to collect his son, sick and stranded in student lodgings. But on this solitary drive from Belfast to Sunderland, Tom will be drawn into another journey, one without map or guide, and is forced to chart pathways of family history haunted by memory and clouded in regret. Written in spare, crystalline prose by one of the most important voices in contemporary Irish writing, Travelling in a Strange Land is a work of exquisite loss and transformative grace. It is a novel about fathers and sons, grief, memory, family and love; about the gulfs that lie between us and those we love, and the wrong turns that we take on our way to find them. “I am entering the frozen land,” this short but breathtaking novel about parental heartache begins. In this strange realm, on the far shore of a frozen lake, there “stands a house. A house with a light burning. In the house are stairs that I know I shall have to climb.” What lies at the top of these stairs is the horror that David Park’s narrator, Tom, must learn to endure. To keep from dwelling on the room at the top of the stairs, Tom focuses on other duties. There are three days to go until Christmas. Heavy snow has grounded all flights. Tom has to get Luke, his sick son, home from student digs in Sunderland to his family home in Belfast. As he sets out in his car, Tom’s wife, Lorna, tells him he’s a good father. “It’s not a claim I’d ever make for myself but I think that, if I bring our son home, in my own mind it might just help – even tip the balance, however temporarily, in my favour.” He heads off on treacherous roads with only his CDs, the voice of the satnav, and his thoughts for company. Tom encounters various fellow travellers on the way. There is the young woman on the car ferry who works as a runner on Game of Thrones, the taciturn attendants at service stations, the driver whose car veers off the road – Tom sits with her until an ambulance comes. Although Tom travels alone, he carries passengers. Luke is never far from his thoughts, nor is Lorna or daughter Lilly. Another figure, Daniel, flits about in Tom’s blind spot. Who Daniel is and what became of him is connected to the horror at the top of the stairs. Tom journeys across a frozen white landscape, but his mind dwells on the hot dark hell in his heart. Parenting is the strange land of the title. “Bringing up a child isn’t like driving this car where I have the voice to guide me and, despite the snow, the tracks of other cars to follow, signals to tell me when to stop and when to go … instead what you have is a kind of blizzard of conflicting and confusing ideas where, despite thinking you know the best direction to take, it soon becomes obvious that you’ve lost your way and the familiar landmarks … have disappeared in a white-out.” Some time ago, Tom made an excruciating choice as a father, one he concealed from his wife and which continues to torment him. By the end of this winter’s tale about a journey, the reader has been on a journey too He is an ordinary man and the catastrophe that has befallen his family, albeit awful, is ordinary, too. He is a photographer by profession, family occasions mostly. “‘Look this way please. Everyone smiling.’ Everyone always pretending to smile. I suddenly shiver.” He takes portraits of pregnant women, newborn babies, weddings that “seem steeped in some sugary concoction of candyfloss and tinsel and look as if they might combust at the first spark of reality”. He knows that, with his understanding of the power of an image, he could have done more with his gift. “In a photograph there’s nothing between you and the subject, nothing to sanitise or mitigate – it’s just you there in that moment as close as the camera places you and held still and silent.” The acknowledgment of the power of a picture is important. A photograph is involved with what lies at the top of the stairs. David Park: a life in books Read more “One must have a mind of winter,” Wallace Stevens wrote in “The Snow Man”, “not to think of any misery in the sound of the wind.” If something is sufficiently imagined, it is felt by the writer, and if it is sufficiently felt by the writer, the reader feels it, too. Every sentence in Travelling in a Strange Land is felt. Just as Tom weighs up his life, sifting through the past for clues to what went wrong, the author has weighed up each word and considered every image, selecting only those that carry sufficient freight to bear the reader to his intended destination. By the end of this winter’s tale about a journey, the reader has been on a journey too. The voice of a middle-aged everyman reflecting on his wife and children recalls that of Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. John Banville’s Eclipse also comes to mind, with its oblique way of navigating the unnavigable. All three novels take daring imaginative risks; in them the dead are no less real than the living. When Tom finally allows his mind to return to the room at the top of the stairs, Park describes what lies in wait for him there with such conflicted delicacy and ferocity that one would have to have a mind of winter not to feel Tom’s anguish. Park takes this emotional terrain of parenthood as both his setting and his subject, and creates something exhilaratingly brave and powerful from its jagged peaks and troughs. This 2018 Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Hardback is in Near Mint condition.

ISBN: 9781408892787 SKU: 1178617 Note: Any image shown is from a stock photo and is not the actual book.