Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review: Edge of Arcadia

Edge of ArcadiaEdge of Arcadia by Ken Reah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edge of Arcadia is the debut novel from artist Ken Reah. It tells the story of Aiden Hamilton also an artist and teacher. This is a book about relationships, Aiden and his wife Cathy in a marriage that has become humdrum at best but with a dark undertone. When Aidan becomes infatuated with Louise, a student at the college, the book sidesteps the well-trodden territory of the relationship triangle. On the face of it we are presented with the older man, the much younger woman, and the wronged wife, but the relationships in this book go deeper. There is a dark thread running through the story involving Aiden and Cathy's relationship with their eldest daughter.

Aiden’s guilt at his affair runs alongside his guilt at being unable to repair a breach in his family or even to confront it in any constructive way.

The story of the central characters is built with realism. There are no artificial devices to bring added drama to the story. The complexities within the networks of people provide crises enough as the different relationships develop or deteriorate, through passion and high drama to sometimes predictable and sometimes shockingly unexpected catastrophes where the different strands of Aiden’s life pull him in impossibly different directions.

Reah avoids the usual clich├ęs. The revelations when they come are not dressed up in unnecessary drama but show the slightly sad reality of real people pushed unwillingly into situations they can’t cope with.

Edge of Arcadia is a long book, the paperback which I read being far too heavy to take on long journeys. With hindsight, I’d have bought the ebook, but I’m glad I own the paperback for the wonderful artwork (from one of Reah’s own pictures) on the cover.

I didn't read this book quickly. It drew me in slowly, bit by bit as the various strands interwove and unravelled. Because we always saw the world through Aiden’s eyes we never saw him objectively in the eyes of others, only as he saw himself or as he perceived others to see him. The reader is left to judge the real Aiden from Aiden's perceptions of the emotional rollercoaster that he both revels in and desperately wants to get off.

Likewise it is Aiden's perceptions we see of his wife Cathy. Is she the wronged wife? Has he somehow pushed her into becoming the woman we see on the page? Some of her actions seem to demand heavy censure yet Aidan struggles not to judge her too harshly. And yet at times it seems to be the guilt of his affair that lets her off the hook for some appalling acts. It is not only Cathy’s actions but some of the actions of the student Louise that are hard to comprehend, but Aidan can't comprehend them and so neither can the reader.

Reah does not fall into the trap of moralising over anyone's actions. He takes us through the entire journey with Aidan and leaves us to judge, to empathise or not, to lay our loyalties where we choose. It is a gentle read with some moments of high passion and high drama. It provides a rich emotional landscape which mirrors some beautiful descriptive prose of the rich landscape of the North East of England where the book is set. It’s a very good read.


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