(Immanion Press, £12.99, 297 pages, April 2005.)
reviewing is an odd business. Before Christmas I had the misfortune
to review the novel Spiral by Japanese author Koji Suzuki. It's
a mass market paperback from the respected publisher HarperCollins,
a best-seller riding on the success of its predecessor, Ring,
which was made into a successful Hollywood movie. Spiral was
appalling--bad in every way. (See my review of
Spiral elsewhere on infinity plus.)
Then, shortly after Christmas, along comes Hinterland, the
first novel from journalist David Barnett, published by the small press
My immediate question is why didn't a major publisher pick up Hinterland--HarperCollins,
for instance? Hinterland is an ambitious, interesting, compelling
read, written with passion and integrity.
On a drunken pub crawl, first person narrator David, a journalist,
stumbles into a mysterious night-club called Arcadia. It's situated
in the hinterland, a mysterious netherworld not to be found on any map.
From that night on, David's life descends into near madness as, increasingly,
'weird shit happens'. A friend is killed in a house fire (the weirdness
lies in the fact that a painting, The Crying Boy, is discovered in pristine
condition in the house, and in other burned-out dwellings too); David
encounters two strange sisters on an island in the local park; a mysterious
stranger clutching a violin case is encountered everywhere; a wild beast
savages sheep on nearby moorland; his father sees a UFO; soon David
is being trailed by a sinister black car.
But it's not all weird shit: as well as deftly portraying the above
enigmas, Barnett paints a convincing picture of David's inner life,
his doomed relationship with Mags, and then with Emma; his friendship
with his drinking mates, and his platonic relationship with prostitute
Cheryl. The secondary characters leap off the page. Barnett neatly balances
the horror elements of the story with a thoroughly absorbing mainstream
treatment of character. The writing is tight, and the descriptions of
life in a gritty northern town convincing. And along the way Barnett
has many interesting things to say about modern life, the information
age, conspiracy theory and plain day to day living.
What he does best, however, is make us feel for the central character.
David is a fully rounded individual, not always likeable, but very human.
Also excellently handled is the ambiguity of the portrayed events: is
the weirdness experienced by David actually happening, or is he going
I won't give away the answer to that, or the enigmatic resolution,
which explains just enough, but has enough threads hanging, to create
a satisfying finale leaving the reader dwelling on the repercussions.
I found Hinterland a compelling novel, and only hope that this
author's forthcoming work will find a mainstream publisher and the wider
audience he deserves.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: