Friday 17 March 2017

REVIEW: The Vagrant by Peter Newman


I really enjoyed this book. 'loved' may not be too strong a word. Best thing I've read in quite a while.

It's an original tale. Every review will mention that it focuses on a man (our 'vagrant') who doesn't speak, and his co-stars are a baby and a goat. More importantly, the man's non-speaking is backed up by a text that spends no significant amount of time in his head - so he remains an enigma, illuminated only through his interactions. A second story thread begins eight years earlier and proceeds to explain the parlous state of the world we're dropping into. This past thread advances by leaps and bounds, revealing the Vagrant's backstory and seeking to wed it to the present action. It's cleverly done and works well.

I should mention the writing. It's very good. Sharp, efficient, full of observation and pleasing turns of phrase. None of it wordy or over-wrought. The writing doesn't try to milk emotion from you - just shows you what's what and leaves the reaction to you.

The world is 'new weird' - demonic-types have entered the world through a breach and proceed to warp, corrupt, co-opt, and take-over. We have all manner of monstrous constructs and most people are warped to some degree.

The goat provides a welcome edge of comedy, as does the baby. Newman clearly knows a lot about babies. I suspect him to have been a new father at the time of writing!

Although the demons do terrible things they're so alien that they don't fill the role of 'baddie' in quite the same way that a person doing terrible things or seeking to end our heroes would. They compensate that lack of someone to really blame/hate by being diverse and interesting, focused on their internal fights as much as they are on taking over the new world they've entered.

I found the story intriguing and the writing's 'voice' a fresh and compelling one.

For me The Vagrant started strong, and kept strong. Endings are hard and I wouldn't call it the perfect ending. It's difficult to avoid anticlimax at the end of any tale and it wasn't wholly avoided here, but there was a lot to like. And it left plenty hanging for a sequel.

Looking at my friends' reviews and the general rating I see the book has got a good reception but not the acclaim I would have expected. I guess this might be because the lack of a (human) head to watch events unfold from doesn't allow us to bond with a hero and their goals in quite the same way we might in more traditional tales. Possibly the weirdness is too much for some readers. And some may seek tighter plotting rather than a sprawling journey punctuated by 'random' encounters. But I really liked the journey, seeing it as canvas onto which the characters and world could be projected. I enjoyed the slow reveal of backstory and agendas.

All in all, very good. Something fresh and new. Give it a try!

It's also worth noting that this is a swift read, a book of modest length at ~90,000 words, which makes a nice change after Big Fat Fantasies over-topping 200,000 words. 

You can go and 'like' my review on goodreads, if you like.

1 comment:

  1. ... ... bought! Only four quid. Who can complain at that.