Review published on October 10, 2013.Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy
“Each memory came innocent and left tainted. And once tainted, memories grew persistent. Their stench remained and coloured other thoughts, so that, like an infection, I was soon left with nothing but tainted memories.”
Nate Dillingham is 17 years old when his life disintegrates. Nate is a nice young man. He is doing well in school and getting ready for college. He is also the sort of guy who gets on with everybody he meets. So when Eric Knight enters his school, Nate befriends him even though it is clear that Eric has issues and none of Nate’s other friends like or trust the new boy. But that is the sort of man Nate is; he likes people, sees the best in them and wants everybody around him to be friends.
One day Eric arrives late for his physics class. He walks in, locks the doors with chains and produces two shotguns. A short time later there are bodies everywhere. The teacher and the students, including Eric are dead or dying. The only one to come out of the classroom to tell the tale is Nate, although he too has been shot.
By the time Nate is discharged from hospital he’s been pronounced a national hero by the British press and public for having stopped Eric from taking his killing spree beyond that one classroom. The only person convinced there is more to the events of that day than the story Nate has been willing to share is the police officer in charge of the case. But Nate isn’t sharing whatever has been left unspoken and with the case officially closed, there’s nothing the investigator can do.
The day Nate turns eighteen he leaves his parent’s house and England to go working and travelling in places where his name means nothing; where people have no idea who he is and what he has done. When he returns to England after eight years he’s grown up, far more experienced and at least on the surface reconciled with his past. Meeting Leona and falling in love with her seems to be the best thing that could have happened to Nate. But the past isn’t finished with Nate yet and Leona is too closely connected to what happened in the past and everything he lost.
This is an amazing and thought-provoking book. The story, as told by Nate after he returned to England, is rather deceptive. Most of his story is narrated as if by a distant observer; emotions are alluded to but never really explored. Nate decided years ago to try and leave the past behind and not think about it too deeply, never mind talk about it. But ignoring the ramifications of the past means that you have to live your present always on edge; forever evading anything that might open up the Pandora’s box filled with memories.
It’s a strange experience to be reading a book about an apparently very sympathetic character who so deeply detests himself and the things he did and didn’t do. It is wonderful when you read a book where the only thing you want to do is reach out and hug the main character, tell him he wasn’t and isn’t responsible. It is heartbreaking when you can see how easily things might have ended differently if only… It is eye-opening when you realise that “if only” are among the cruellest words known to men.
I would so like to discuss this book with others who have read it. More specifically I would like to talk about what might happen after the book finishes, because for me it is only too easy to imagine that it might all happen again; different players but similar outcome. And of course I can’t say more about that here without resorting to spoilers…
This than is an amazing book that should, if there is any justice, be discovered, read and discussed by thousands of readers. Well written, deceptively easy to read and almost impossible to put down this is a story that will shock you, make you think, and stay with you for a long time after you’ve read the last page.