A Half Life Of One by Bill Liversidge – a review
First impression; taking it out of the envelope. It’s a real book. Bright cover, solid feel, nice spine and you can splay the pages and get a feel for the density of the print, length of paragraphs, etc.
All that is good. What is not so good is when you start reading you soon realise that the manuscript hasn’t been adequately copy-proofed. There are words missing, half-words, duplicated words, inversions like hte instead of the, each of which sends a shiver of pain into a reader’s heart.
The voice, however, is authentic, and it is the voice, after all, which will determine if I’m going to read this book right through to the end. But first there’s another problem. The voice is convincing but it is the voice of a depressive and someone who is deep in denial about the nature of his position in his own world and in the world of those around him. I hope there will be intervals of relief from the man’s inner life.
And there are. Although he is often too close for comfort we do come to know Nick Dowty in a way. And the author pulls away from time to time, giving us a wide-angle view of the main protagonist. There are moments when we are so far away from him that he becomes almost symbolic, a Job figure, fending off the ills of the world, which come at him wholesale, in spite of the best intentions of the man.
An entrepreneur with no customers and a long list of pressing creditors, the real possibility of being deserted by his wife and family, his situation is so hopeless that the hitherto honest Nick contemplates the possibility of various crimes to get himself and his family back into a viable position. Investigating one of these possibilities he is surprised and suspects that his cover is blown:
For several long seconds he waited for something awful to happen. A tap on the shoulder, his ignominious ejection from the wood for trespassing. Standing there in that unfamiliar, hostile environment he had an inkling of what it must have felt like for the GIs in the jungle in Vietnam back in the sixties. Now he too was stranded in a foreign country. The enemy was all around him. It was a weird feeling. The land he had loved and thought of as his own had been transformed into enemy territory. Maybe it always had been – he’d just been too dumb to realise that he had been trespassing all his life.
In the course of a single violent act, we begin to lose sympathy with Nick Dowty. As long as he dreams of revenge and violence we go along with it, always ready to smile at his
naïveté. But as soon as reality creeps in we want to forget him, which is a big problem in an extended narrative like a novel. Or it would be if Bill Liversidge didn’t have the skill to woo us back again. Almost immediately he begins the process of reminding us that we are not dealing with a monster, but with a fallible and frustrated human being.
But we forget how far a man will go when he is faced with survival or extinction. With all the evidence at our fingertips and with a continuing tour of the inside of Nick Dowty’s head, we are still surprised at the depth and intensity of his denial. As he vacillates between the twin luxuries of guilt and justification for his increasingly bizarre actions and behaviour he loses any pretence of moral feeling, inhabiting a laissez-faire world where anything is justified in the name of success.
On another level, Liversidge’s book is an allegory for our time. The real goal is the veneer of civilization and his protagonist will stop at nothing to appear like those who surround him. That he is in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing would be strenuously denied by everyone who knows him.
I enjoyed this novel enormously and would place it among the better books I have read this year. It is well written, pacey, tense and thoughtful. Definitely something to put on your Christmas list.