“Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”
By the time the narrator of this story is fifty he has lived his life almost as if by accident. An unexceptional childhood followed by an impassionate marriage and successful but unfulfilling careers, first as a G.P and subsequently as an upstanding but unremarkable Member of Parliament. A life lived without strong emotions of any kind. A life which, had it ended in the narrator’s fiftieth year, would have been widely respected and totally unremarkable.
Everything changes when he meets Anna Barton, his son’s girlfriend. Although his wife is suspicious of the girl, who is eight year older than her beloved 25 year old son, the narrator feels an instant attraction to her the moment he meets her. An attraction that appears to be mutual since he and Anna start a passionate affair shortly after meeting.
The affair with Anna becomes the narrator’s obsession. For the first time in his life he is experiencing strong emotions and he is unable and unwilling to let go of either those emotions or the woman who has triggered them; is at the centre of them.
Anna is a troubled woman though, with tragedy in her past and almost certainly tragedy in her future. As Anna and the narrator’s son prepare to get married, the affair continues as passionate as ever and disaster must surely wait, just around the corner.
This was not an easy book to read. It is a bit like watching a train-wreck. You know that it’s all going to go horribly wrong but yet you can’t look away, can’t stop reading, even though you are feeling increasingly uncomfortable with what is happening on the page.
From the very first chapter it is clear that this story is not going to have a happy ending:
“But I did not die in my fiftieth year. There are few who know me now who do not regard that as a tragedy.”
From the very first word it is clear that the narrator is speeding his way towards disaster and the reader has no choice but to watch him destroy not only his own life but also that of those around him.
Of course it is proof of the excellent writing that although I did end up feeling extremely uncomfortable about the road to self-destruction the narrator so willingly took I had to follow him to the bitter end.
It is strange to read a book in which the sympathetic characters are the secondary ones. The two main protagonists’ selfish actions make it hard if not impossible for the reader to like them. They are, because of their characters and actions, fascinating to read about though.
This would make a great book for a reading group discussion since it brings some interesting questions to mind.
Does a life-time lived without passion really constitute a life? Or, how much are we willing to excuse or explain away because of trauma early in life? How would I react or behave if I were any of the characters in this story? I could go on.
If I were absolutely honest I should probably mark this book five stars. It is very well written, a compulsive read and thought-provoking. The reason I can’t quite get myself to do so is completely personal; the book made me uncomfortable while I was reading it and still has me feeling that discomfort now that I’m writing about it. I would call this an ugly story very beautifully told.