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by L. M. Brown

Rating: ****

Hinterland is set in Boston and involves the reader in the lives of Nicholas Giovanni, his young daughter, Kate and Kate’s mother, Kathleen. Kathleen suffers from mental illness and her instabilities have been exacerbated by Kate’s arrival. Nicholas works nights so he can care for their daughter. When his childhood friend and old flame, Ina, moves back to the neighbouring house, simmering tensions within and between all characters escalate leaving five-year old Kate without a Mother and no explanation as to where she has gone…

Hinterland is literary fiction in its purest form. The writing is skilfully descriptive, nuanced and poetically beautiful. From the outset, there is an air of foreboding; hints of the mental turmoil engulfing this small family unit dropping like crumbs throughout the narrative. It’s atmospheric, intense and uncomfortable. When Ina arrives and then the fateful day of Kathleen’s removal, the pace quickens and the novel briefly assumes the mantle of a thriller. Subtle twists appear and the reader is not too sure who is to be entirely trusted and what exactly happened. This evens out and focus shifts to the relationship between Nicholas and Ina. Their exchanges are heavy with the weight of regret and the unsaid. Nicholas becomes unpleasant towards her, emotionally dead and lacking in any self-awareness or empathy. Ina’s passivity fuels his introspection and overbearing attitude and I did sometimes find both characters resultingly frustrating. Occasionally, Hinterland, was a little overworked and, in places, the story falters against the beauty of the prose.

Just after halfway, the narrative takes us further forward and Nicholas is dealing with a teenage Kate which is a welcome shift. The challenges with fourteen-year old Kate are manifold and Ms Brown’s writing conveys Nicholas’s raw despair and Kate’s slow-burning resentment and loathing of him. It’s painful reading that is draining in parts; although Kate’s behaviour is understandable given the trauma surrounding her, I desperately wanted her and Nicholas to find some common ground. I would have liked to have understood Kathleen more. It would have been interesting to know what she thought in her lucid moments. She is an elusive character, wraith-like and as fragile as her mental health and yet you felt there were layers to this story within her that could have been explored.

Hinterland is a beautifully written novel, exposing the frailties and flaws of the human condition in emotionally descriptive and elegant prose. Well worth reading. Buy from:

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