Here's a story with 45 narrators (that's quirky), who are all inanimate objects (that's surreal), and it's a war story, set in Afghanistan (now that's surely lost touch with reality).
Not at all: this is the most dispassionate book I've ever read, but it's as hard to categorise as it is to review. The story is simple ~ soldier stands on an IED (an amateur land-mine), loses both legs and is flown home to be fitted with prosthetics. A second dimension in the book introduces the teenager who made the IED, the village elder who tries to keep his neighbours from harm, and the teenager's best friend (the elder's son) who won't join the insurgents.
Now for the third dimension ~ the story is told, in disjointed episodes, by some unlikely players. We learn from the IED what it feels like to be made ready under a dusty road surface (a chapter ending with the words “I functioned”). A surgeon's electric saw tells us about waiting on a sterile table with other tools until it starts its work on a shattered bone, and we learn how a lethal infection tries to survive in a gangrenous wound. There are chapters written by a mother's handbag, a beer glass, and some pre-Afghan photos thoughtlessly brought to the legless hero's bedside.
This is what gives the book its force: because it is narrated by 45 inanimate objects, they bring a totally objective viewpoint. There's no emotion in the writing – but plenty frustration, pity, anger and sorrow among the spectators these objects encounter; the hero's distraught mother and resigned but practical father, his friends, and the wife of the village elder. Those who have active parts to play in the tragedy simply get on with their work.
Some of that work comes in unsparing detail ~ the tools used for surgery in the field and in the UK describe themselves in clinical terms. The field radio offers a verbatim account of the fatal operation, and if you want to know what an IED blast does, chapter 42 will lead you on the whole journey from the first footstep through to the pressure on the helmet. You will learn as much about making an Afghan rug as you will learn about the conversations on it when the soldiers met the peacemaker elder. From a barrow you'll learn about the elder bringing his son's body to the army base, and from banknotes you will learn of the father's shame at accepting compensation for his loss.
I've used that word “learn” a lot, but one thing you won't learn is any easy answer to all the questions you'll be asking yourself right through the book. (Review originally published in Chesil Magazine, Dorset)