Shortlisted for the 2014 Folio Prize

I might as well say this upfront.  I was rooting for Schroder to emerge as victor at last week’s prize-giving ceremony.  I was utterly transfixed as I read this.  Could not wait to pick it up again when I had to put it down (which only happened twice).

I’ll say this as well.  I was rooting for Schroder to emerge as victor in the narrative – this despite what he does.  Not that it was ever likely, once he, a divorced man, takes his daughter on holiday …. without permission.  Kidnap in the eyes of the law but not according to Schroder’s increasingly desperate and agonising rationalisations.  

By the time he does this, you can see his point.  How he has backed himself into a corner by being too generous to his ex-wife during divorce and child care negotiations.  His attempts to regain lost ground doomed to failure … by a secret.  Something to do with the umlaut missing from his name and the Kennedys.

I shall say no more about plot so as not to spoil it for those who have yet to tread this reading path. However, be prepared to be put through an emotional mangle by as unreliable and as sympathetic a narrator as you will ever meet.  The format is that of a confessional, so we only get Schroder’s mentally distressed point-of-view.  We see his wife and his daughter and the assessment of their relationship and his motivations only through his eyes.  We can only judge him objectively through his actions and I was in no mood to judge him ….

…. until the backstory of his shabbiness towards his German-immigrant father unfolded.  This provided an emotional counterpoint to his all-consuming love for his daughter (and possibly an indication of why his wife was so dissatisfied).

I enjoyed the descriptions of the beautiful New England landscape (an area I hope one day to see for myself) which Schroder  and his daughter travel through on their trip; the beauty of the countryside in absolute juxtaposition to the ugliness of his family life.  What should have be an ideal and carefree escape increasing marred by realities and consequences which are not to be avoided.  A road to perdition, if you will.

3 weeks later,  I am still upset.  That is the sign of a brilliant read.  I have only one gripe. I skimmed pages 255-258 (Faber and Faber, hardback edition).  A case of overcooked mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.