An original voice that narrates a delicious story, populated with an interesting mix of characters, and set in an exotic location, even though a bit dreary, this book is a captivating page turner.
Wood Green echoes the melancholia and the propensity of living in the past, or, sometimes, way up ahead in the future, of its characters, as they search for individuality and ambition to find a balance between their pleasures and existence. The inner world of this brilliant debut novel is about the emptiness that the characters experience as they try to break free from their existential dilemmas related to love, desire, and accomplishment.
An aspiring writer, Michael, takes a leave of absence to travel to Hobart in Tasmania to work as an assistant to Lucian Clarke, a writer in his sixties who was Michael’s subject for his Ph.D. thesis. Michael seems to have two ambitions: one, learn more about the reclusive writer whom he clearly admires, and two, use the time to finish his own debut novel and perhaps get his favourite writer, Lucian, to read and endorse it.
Wood Green is a small village, just a convenience store owned by Tim and Maureen, a pub by Paul, and a few other houses including the one where Lucian lives. The way their worlds are interwoven by the author is really clever and makes for a compelling read. The images that these parts create are vivid thereby making the story alive and intimate.
The taxi drivers of Hobart, as chatty as drivers anywhere and a tremendous source of information like only drivers can be, open up the place for the reader, a distraction that works well to wedge from time to time, the absorbing tale of an aspiring writer trying to learn what an accomplished writer is all too sure but unwilling to let go. These two central characters –Michael, the aspiring writer, and Lucian Clarke, the acclaimed writer—though as flawed as anyone of us are motivated by a lack of ambition they aren’t aware of. These writers, through days filled with conversations, music & marijuana, begin to bleed into each other’s world over time—each as solitary, selfish & decadent as the other—until one day their worlds collide & become one.
But there’s a minor flaw if I can call it that. Two-thirds into the novel, the author takes the story too close to the characters other than Michael and Lucian, all of whom except Carl, the South African who is looking for a quiet place to settle down as he bides time, don’t have a back story. These diversionary subplots, which I assume are intended, when alternating with the story of Lucian whose health is deteriorating, and Michael, who is getting consumed by the ideas and habits of his employer-cum-mentor, dilute the powerful narrative established in the earlier part. Perhaps the reason why as a reader, I found myself thinking more about these secondary characters, so much so that when Michael and Lucian did get back on the pages to carry the story forward, I found myself hurrying through. Was it done to get the story fatter? Well, whatever the reason, this could have been avoided. Twenty percent shorter, Wood Green would have been a completely different book.
On the whole, Wood Green is dark and disturbing, a powerful examination of how circumstances and ambitions in contemporary times when tweaked by material and intellectual insatiability shape people’s lives.
Rating 4.5 / 5.