Orenda Books, 22 July 2021
Available as: PB, audio, e
Source: Advance copy supplied by the publisher
I'm grateful to Orenda Books for an advance copy of The Beresford and to Anne for inviting me to take part in this Random Things Tour.
"Why this is hell, nor am I out of it..."
Will Carver is one of my standout favourite authors. His Detective Sergeant Pace trilogy (Good Samaritans/ Nothing Important Happened Today/ Hinton Hollow Death Trip) is a masterpiece of suburban evil, the sentences perfectly honed surgical instruments that probe the reader's morality and sense of self.
The Beresford is in the same mould in being what I will hereby name ethical noir - and at an even more heightened pitch. At the same time, it also reminded me of something completely different - the Ealing comedy, where the bodies inconvenient family members or hapless bystanders accumulate and there is a kind of grim humour in their disposal.
"Just outside the city - any city, every city - is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford..."
The Beresford is where people come when they are on the cusp. Young adults striking out in life. People looking for a change in direction, or contemplating a business move away from the familiar. Wives getting away from abusive husbands. Artists, emerging into fame, but not quite there yet. All of them find themselves ringing the doorbell, being welcomed by Mrs May, shown to a clean and empty apartment.
And they'll make friends. Go into the city, find a place to get a coffee, maybe pick up a new phone. A new life, putting the past behind them.
But The Beresford isn't safe. As the bell rings, somewhere else in the building, a different tenant comes to terms with just what they have been capable of - and with what they must do next...
Nor is The Beresford - the book - safe. Carver is, I firmly maintain, a monster of an author. His prose insinuates. It sidles up to the reader on the train, bags a seat - a little too close, you may think to yourself - and makes itself at home. Half a page later it's confronting you with some bit of hypocrisy you'd swear nobody knows anything else about. (How does he DO THAT?). It will unpick a little corner of your life's fabric, demolishing a fond assumption or pious cliche, asking an awkward
A page further on, and the book's (metaphorically, or perhaps metaphysically) made off with your phone, watch and wallet. (How does he DO THAT?)
A few chapters more, and you'll probably find a bloodstained knife in your bag and that you're implicated in a murder.
I have never read a writer who has such a knack for implicating his readers in the darkness of his writing. There is no neutrality, no superiority, here. We meet Abe Schwartz, geeky nice guy. Blair Conroy, a young woman escaping a stuffy, conformist religious town (her parents' uneasy, over-quite life after she's gone is a recurring motif). Gail Castle, who fell for a strong and sensitive man - who came home from the war changed. Deftly, Carver introduces them, providing not so much a physical or emotional but a moral description (whether via their internal lives, their actions and relationships or their secrets). It would be wrong to describe any of them as evil, but there is evil here. And Carver's task is to make us, the readers, complicit with that. In tiny steps - while commenting on, and lamenting, the whole shady process.
That process reminded me a bit of a collector of insects selecting specimens and pinning them, wings beating or legs flailing, to a board for display. We, the readers, somehow share in this, are tainted by something that Carver, as the author, is doing to his characters. It's as though The Beresford - the place, the book - is one of those ghoulish Victorian museums in a fly-blown seaside resort. We're invited to take part in the oh-so convincing portrayal of the ethical degradation that will take place here. (How DOES he do that?)
If this all sounds off-putting, be assured, the process of ethical dissolution we witness in The Beresford is quite, quite fascinating. My, my, the things people will do. The justifications they find. The sharp asides and insights that Carver uses to show us that, no, we are not better, not special, not superior to this. (And isn't that what history teaches?)
The book is located in a curiously bland setting - perhaps in the UK (there's a reference to a motorway), perhaps the US (Blair's hometown is uniformly, smugly Evangelical) - lending the story a defocused, universal feel: this could be anywhere - aided by a lack of engagement with the outside world. Regardless of how furiously the little insects beat their wings - seeking jobs, fame, business success - it's as though they've made a misstep and can't, quite, catch hold of the world again. The pins hold them. Their trips out, their business meetings and job interviews, more and more have the appearance of somebody waving from a departing liner. It's as though The Beresford exists slightly out of phase with the wider world, as though different rules apply here, consequences are suspended. That superb cover - surely based on an Escher drawing, evoking trapped internality, a dimensional snare but one is washed with blood, its surfaces etched with writhing figures - truly captures the feeling of reading this book, a feeling I can only hint at here.
It's one that stuck with me long after I'd finished the book and closed it, gobsmacked by where Carver finally takes things.
He is, I will say again, a MONSTER...
For more information about The Beresford, see the publisher's website here. And don't forget the stops on the blogtour, listed on the poster below.
You can buy The Beresford from your local bookshop, or online from Bookshop dot org UK, from Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.