the casualties

The Casualties by Nick Holdstock

The synopsis for Holdstock's debut novel just immediately captivated me. It's a bit ambiguous, a bit mysterious, intriguing, and left me wanting more. 

By the time I finished the novel, generously provided by Thomas Dunne, I felt... somewhat ambiguous about some of the mystery, still intrigued by the writing, and, yes, wanting more. 

We delve into the private lives of a cast of characters living in a small, insulated neighborhood of Edinburgh. The characters are each interesting, hiding secrets, and bounce off each other in disturbing ways. Add to this that their stories are being told from the vantage point of a character - known or unknown? - in the future, decades after they are all devastated by a meteor strike in Edinburgh (and also New York and Paris). So their lives are (intended to be) imparted with a sense of doom, of wandering towards trying to fix their lives without knowing that they may not have them shortly, with a wondering of who may or may not survive.  

Although I appreciated the twist of the future character and this alteration did add some intrigue to the storylines, it also wasn't particularly necessary. I felt the lives of the characters in the modern (2015-2017 time frame) setting were enough, relatively strong and intersecting so that they didn't need bolstering with the twist.

So I didn't absolutely adore these characters, unfortunately, which left me at a bit of a remove from the novel. I mean, of course, some of them - likely most of them - aren't mean to be adored in the sense that you love them, so I suppose I mean I was never all that invested in any of them. This always affects that motivation to continue reading in order to find out how their lives end (or at least progress). 

Which also isn't to say that I didn't like the novel. There were absolutely some strengths here. Please note that my copy of the novel was a review copy and so it is possible that there were some changes before publication. 

"Sam was more interested in finding out new things. During the rare moments when he was not in the shop, he wandered the streets of Comely Bank, glancing in windows, loitering in shops, sitting on benches, observing people and listening to conversations in which he took no part. He was like a ghost that everyone could see. If you had asked him why he did this, he would have shrugged, smiled, and said something about being interested in people. A few thought him a little strange. Nobody, including him, thought he could do harm."

"I have no doubt that Mrs. Maclean believed in God. But did He believe in her? She was of so little substance, so scarcely present, that even He, who had created her, might have doubted her existence."

"Hers was not an emotional distance; even when standing in front of you, she did not seem fully present. She was like a ghost who had come to smile and comment on the weather."

"Her hair was straw-coloured and wispy and piled on top of her head with such care that it was as if two birds had lovingly arranged it for their chicks. Though they had woven it with care - thinking of pale blue eggs that had to be kept safe, of nestlings with still-closed eyes and fluffy, useless wings - the nest they had fashioned seemed as fragile as the little birds' heads. A gust of wind, the paw of a cat, and everything would be lost."

"But by virtue of living in a different flat, having a different job, shopping in different places, making new sounds with her mouth, she could not be entirely the same person, which meant she had a chance of being happy."

Although I was middling on the characters and even somewhat the overall plot, I enjoyed Holdstock's clever presentation and I definitely enjoyed the writing. As well, there are photographs in the novel to augment the stories. I realize I wrote stories there and that's another point. In one sense, some of the telling of these character's lives comes across as more like short stories that happen to intermingle. I feel like this contributed to the sense of distance. The photographs are old and lovely (on the whole - there was one strange image that stood out in stark contrast the rest of them, and there was some repetition that seemed a bit like filling space).

The Casualties was uneven for me. I'm happy to have read it, however, and will certainly be looking forward to more of Holdstock's work as the writing was enough to assure my return.