Friday, December 29, 2017

Fallow, by Daniel Shand

Staff review by Chris Saliba

A thriller that turns into an absurdist farce, Fallow is the compelling first novel from Scottish author Daniel Shand.

Paul and Mikey are brothers in their mid-twenties. Mikey, the younger brother by a few years, is intellectually immature and a “bit sensitive”. He’s somewhat like Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men – physically strong but mentally challenged.

The two brothers are on the run. Mikey has broken his parole, at the urging of Paul, and now the brothers are trying to live by their wits in the Scottish highlands. They camp for a while in a tent, then take over a house, find work digging ditches, steal a van and end up roaming the roads. Along the way they meet several interesting and eccentric characters. The story climaxes, changing from gripping thriller to theatre of the absurd, when the brothers join a peace camp run by warring hippie and religious factions.

Fallow is narrated by Paul, the older brother, and it’s his voice that makes the novel so compelling and psychologically penetrating. He’s clearly a manipulative character, quite misanthropic (Patricia Highsmith’s relish for describing dull middle-class lives comes to mind here), devious and menacing. He plunges the brothers further and further into trouble, and like Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, his lies threaten to box them both in with no chance of escape.

As the story further works itself out, and the brothers join the farcical peace camp, it starts to emerge that Paul is not so reliable a narrator after all. The reader starts to question the veracity of the brothers’ exploits. Paul’s character also starts to diminish, becoming weaker, more pathetic and surprisingly vulnerable. His descent from mean bravado to quivering mess is fascinating and horrifying to watch.

Part hair-raising thriller and part absurdist romp, Daniel Shand’s debut novel mixes Patricia Highsmith’s moreish prose with the existential madness of Charles Portis and Samuel Beckett.

It’s hard to figure out what the final message of Fallow is, indeed if there is one, but nonetheless its portrait of a highly unstable mind will remain burnished in your consciousness.

This is high quality literary fiction, immensely enjoyable, from a remarkably gifted young writer still in his twenties.

Fallow, by Daniel Shand. Published by Picador. ISBN: 9781760556785 RRP: $17.99

Released 11th January, 2018

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