Sunday, 11 March 2012

August, by Bernard Beckett

"Tristan found a new feeling taking hold of him, something lighter than happiness. His thoughts drifted more and more from the present to the future. Hope. That was it, even if he couldn't name it. Hope lifted his gaze and floated his mind. He had no idea what lay ahead of him, but he knew it was something."

Beckett is an author I hadn't heard of until recently, when I was given a copy of 'August' as a gift. (This is just one of the many advantages to having a bookseller for a friend - they always know just what you'll like!)

August is the story of two teenagers - Tristan and Grace - and the things that have brought them together. Not just any kind of together, though - certainly not the nice, happily-ever-after together - but the kind of agonising togetherness that could go either way.

The book starts with virtual strangers Tristan and Grace flying from the road in their car and tumbling part-way into a valley. Landing upside down, they are trapped. It's the middle of the night, and there's no chance they'll be spotted from the road. Bleeding and in excruciating pain, they're in this for the long haul, and they know it.

To keep each other conscious, they tell their stories. And that's what this book is: it's a story about stories, and the ways in which they weave in and out of each other.

Tristan and Grace take it in turns to talk, slowly revealing how they ended up in a car together that night. We follow both through their childhoods and their quests to find adulthood, each step along the way bringing characters as rich and varied as any you could wish for, and each time their stories move on, we are constantly left wondering where the fault for their misfortune lies.

Beckett cleverly weaves good and bad with uncertainty and circumstance, and it is truly difficult to blame anybody for their actions, even if you spend the entire book wishing you could do so.

But the thing I most admire about August is the way it takes its time. There is no rush here. Beckett lets you take your time, allows you to absorb every word of his winding sentences, and lets you feel your way forwards. The build up of tension is incredible, and as Tristan and Grace get closer to understanding the ways in which their lives have crossed in unstoppable and sometimes unforgivable moments, you egg them on with everything you have, even though you suspect you don't want the full story to come out. Very little in their lives has been good, and you feel that life isn't going to start being good to them now.

"Time is passing," Grace replied. "And we are not. It's the best we can hope for."

August is an intense read. Beckett deals with some big philosophical ideas, and as with everything else in this book, he takes his time in doing so. Then again, he handles everything with such ease that it feels just right that you should be reading about the arguments surrounding man's free will one minute, and watching Tristan slowly manipulate a broken tooth to the front of his bloodied mouth with his tongue so that he can spit it out the next.

August is part thriller, part love story. These are two teenagers who time and time again have broken free from their constraints only to find new and darker ones. Every time life turns on them, you can't help but wish for better for them both, especially as they are often one word, one glance over their shoulders away from better things. As a reader, your only hope is that through telling each other their stories, they can figure out a next move that will take them someplace better, and even as you are nearing the end of this book, you won't be sure which way it's going to go. But either way, it's worth going along for the ride.


  1. OH claimed this when it arrived for review but I've put it aside for me to read as well. Sounds like my kind of book!

  2. Okay - may I borrow this book please?


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