Book Review: Midway by Nathan Robinson

Midway cover

Sam Berlitz is a team member in an international swimming race across the Atlantic. He feels as though he’s been swimming for longer than his one-hour allocation and realises the boat with his teammates on it is gone.

Alone, afloat in the unforgiving ocean a thousand miles from land his mind starts to create monsters. Or maybe they’re not all in his mind.

Midway is part mystery thriller and part survival horror with a good dose of Lovecraftian weird thrown in. I won’t tell you how it all pans out but the stuff that actually happens is secondary to Sam’s emotional journey. It’s the loneliness, the lack of stimulus, his fear of the dark, sleep deprivation and the tricks his mind plays on him that make this a riveting read. The tension doesn’t let up from about three pages in till the very end. I was furious when I had to stop reading and go back to work.

As well as the anxiety over his almost certain impending death, he starts to dwell on his life and his relationships. He has a fiancée but is having sex with a teammate on the boat. He compares them with each other, with his parents and friends, and with his dog, trying to decide whom he’ll miss, and what he’ll do if he miraculously survives. It’s a touching moment when he realises that dying means he’ll never walk the dog again.

I had some quibbles with Robinson’s prose at the very beginning: there is some extraneous description that could be cut. But I honestly don’t know if it got better or if I was just too engrossed in the story to notice. The prose became invisible and only served the story – a sure sign of quality writing.

Get past the slightly over-written beginning and you’re in for a rare treat. highly recommended.

Ketchup on Everything by Nathan Robinson. Book review.

ketchupIt’s dusk. A motor home pulls into the car park of a provincial diner somewhere in England. Inside are Elliot Tather and an urn containing his wife’s ashes. He is scouring the country for Evan, the son who went missing twenty years before.

 

In the course of the novella we hear about the day the boy disappeared, Elliot’s subsequent journey, and the events in the diner that night.

 

The heart of the story is the character of Elliot, a likeable chap who reminds me of every parent I’ve ever met. When he loses his son all the certainties in his life collapse; things he thought important fade to insignificance and the tracking down of his missing son becomes a life-long obsession.

 

This is not a novel for teenage gore-hounds. It deals with adult themes, and I don’t mean adult as a euphemism for sexual content. I mean that you’ll get more from this if you’re a parent and ever suffered that moment of panic when your child goes missing, or your child has had a serious illness. A parent will always feel the urge to do something, to sort it out, ride to the rescue, make everything better.

 

When your best efforts are ineffectual and irrelevant, you can doubt the whole point of your existence. If you can’t do that one simple thing, protect your child, you are worthless.

 

I don’t think any book I’ve ever read conveys this lonely helplessness better. Elliot’s horror is compounded by his responsibility to his wife, friends, relatives, and the need to show appreciation of their well meant efforts at consolation.

 

But Robinson tightens the emotional thumbscrews further. Often when reading a book with a tortured central character we think we would help ­if only we were there. We would offer support and ease the loneliness that so often afflicts great dramatic characters. In this case we know that we would be as useless as his well meaning friends, unless we could return his son to him. This reinforcement of Elliot’s isolation by forcing us to share his impotence is a masterstroke by Robinson, effectively amplifying his pain by resonating it with our own.

 

There is another distorted reflection of Elliot’s decimated family in the final scene in the diner, but I don’t want to even hint at what happens there, but I can tell you the story ends with hope, sadness and catharsis.

 

Ketchup on Everything is a short horror novel about the things that really scare adults in contemporary Britain, and one that will put you through the emotional wringer.

 

Highly recommended.