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13 October 2020

Review - Hinterland by LM Brown

Cover image: “Roses on Red Chair” © Kathy Bradshaw
Cover image: “Roses on Red Chair”
© Kathy Bradshaw
LM Brown
Fomite Press, 13 October 2020
Available as: PB, 324pp, e
Source: Advance e-copy
ISBN: 9781947917583

I'm grateful to the author for an advance e-copy of Hinterland to consider for review.

Hinterland is an intense, closely observed study of one family living in a Boston suburb over a decade or so in the early 2000s.

We meet Nicholas ‍Giovanni, a taxi driver, whose main focus in life is the protection of his young daughter, Kate. When first introduced, he is sneaking away from his nightshift and back into the house while baby Kate and her mother Kathleen sleep, to check that all is well with Kate. A devoted father, or just this side of creepy? 

Kathleen herself is a troubled woman - how much so we'll only slowly discover - who is riled when Ina moves back in next door. Ina's mother Tilly has had a fall (Nicholas discovered her in the snow in her back garden) and Ina has returned to look after her. Nicholas, Tilly and Ina know each other well (Nicholas is still living in his childhood home, he and Ina grew up together) - and it's soon clear there is history here ('it had been hard to be in the same room as Ina'). What, exactly, and what sort, you need to discover for yourself - Brown will reveal this slowly as the months and years move forward and a catastrophe strikes Nicholas's little family, leaving him to care for Kate alone (alone, with help from Ida).

The characters will grow on you. Nicholas is always uneasy, trying to control everything, especially Kate (for example, he's unwilling to let her go to the playground alone, following her even when she tells him not to). At one point we are told of Nicholas that 'It was impossible to know exactly how to feel', as though he is an actor on stage waiting for direction. 

Kate misses her mother ('She wondered constantly where her mother was, if she had fallen and hurt herself, if she had forgotten where she lived...'), aware of a great absence that nobody will talk about. Nicholas won't be frank with Kate about the thing that has happened - understandably, you might think, but it leaves Kate so wounded and he refuses to do the one thing that might set things right. Why, we can only speculate.

And Ina, Nichola's sister-in-law, who seems part of, and not part of, this odd family, helping out, but resented, resenting. There is, as I said, history here - and secrets to be revealed - with Ina's and Nicholas's relationship now playing out a pattern that's rooted in events of twenty years before. The tension that Brown sketches between the two is electric, one almost feels the words crackle as one reads them, and there is a sense in which everyone else in the book - even Kate - is in their shadow, having to work round them, make space for them, if unconsciously. So Kate and, for example, Nicholas's brother Stefano and son Cooper, when they turn up, are all puzzled, stepping round in a dance they don't comprehend to accommodate Nicholas and Ina. 

It's a dance that Kathleen never learned to perform: so early on, she has to leave the stage and this fascinating woman is mostly seen in glimpses, memories, the reports of interested parties and experts. She's always interpreted by others, analysed, argued over. Yet even in her absence Kate seems to have a bond with her and a major theme of the book is Kate's quest for her mother, a quest that's sometimes overt but sometimes hidden even from her. An inevitably that quest opens up a rift with Nicholas, who's so wound up in keeping the truth from his daughter that he seems almost stop knowing her, his understanding of her personality drifting from that seen by everyone else ('he never thought that Kate could be a completely different person outside her house.')

That does give the book a vein of melancholy, but it's never maudlin. And Brown's characters are complex and real enough that - while one may not like all of them - one comes to understand them and want the best for them (even Nicholas, who, as I have said, does sometimes exhibit a worrying degree of obsession and control).

I would recommend Hinterland, both to readers of Brown's previous stories - for example her collections Treading the Uneven Road ‍and ‍Were We Awake - and those who are new to her writing. 

For more information about Hinterland, see the publisher's website here. You can purchase the book from Amazon here

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