The Mark by J L Fontaine

Article published on August 11, 2015.

‘An atmospheric, gritty tale of dysfunctional, destructive behaviour and the potential for how this can be turned around by the most unexpected person’

This book is a little different. Fontaine doesn’t hold back much, but this gives it a harsh, real life feel, that is needed for this sort of story. As such it is punchy and hard hitting from the off.

The main character is Liam. He has had a tough life and is an angry, bitter and ultimately an exasperated man. He has served a prison sentence initially for robbery and violence, but ultimately for the murder of his brother. His home life was always difficult. His younger brother, Conor, was a taunting, handful, always ready to provoke Liam. Being the wild, but favoured son by his father he got away with aspects of very bad behaviour. All the while Liam was punished regardless of whether he deserved it or not. Having caught Conor sleeping with his wife twice, the latter upon release from prison, a fight ensues and Liam accidentally kills him.

His wife, Peggy, ends up pregnant by Conor (the dates supported by the fact that Liam would have been in prison at the time), and being completely selfish and manipulating wants nothing to do with her son. She does take every opportunity to distort the behaviour of Liam and bring his fragile reputation into further disrepute. She enjoys inflicting more pain and bitterness; she tells her son Danny that Liam is his dad that abandoned him and rages a bitter battle of words against Liam in general.

The death affects Liam greatly and upon release from prison he copes by keeping away from Peggy and living his life on the move, travelling from place to place with no fixed abode.

Whilst roving he comes across an unused cottage. It is snowing and he is in desperate need of shelter. The cottage however is owned by a 44 year old widowed, rich lady by the name of Laura West. Coming across Liam, she takes some pity on him, and at some risk to herself allows him to stay at her unused cottage for a night to recover and rest. The weather remains inclement and therefore Liam ends up staying longer and undertaking some work for Laura to earn his keep. Liam’s behaviour isn’t always good. He is prone to dark and violent moods, but Laura despite the risk to herself, perseveres and a calmer Liam begins to emerge.

A bond between these very different characters forms until Peggy learns by chance where he is living and again tries to destroy his life, leaving him with her son, Danny. Danny having been in care for most of his young fourteen years is an extremely difficult, manipulative young person. He is aggressive and thrives on provoking a reaction also. What ensues is a very gritty story of the impact his appearance has on all their lives.

The no-nonsense style of this writing makes it a punchy and entertaining read. There were times, when I found it hard to believe that such a person as Laura wouldn’t be the victim of these maladapted individuals. But you could equally argue that her individual style and approach strikes a part of them that is good and untapped. Perhaps the transformation by them was more rapid than truly realistic, but the way they act badly, but dislike themselves for this is well captured and conveyed. There is an aspect of inherent self-preservation mode that they repeat over and over that is destructive, but acts to reinforce how the majority of people will withdraw from them, always to let them down. Some of the story is told from Danny’s perspective as well as Liam’s. It is very tense. It is packed with passion, tenacity and a sense of determination from these 3 main characters. It’s certainly not all plain sailing but is a very readable and immersive book that is worth a read.

Sara Garland

The Mark by J L Fontaine

978-1909374379, Holland House, pbk April 1, 2015

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