A former torture expert decides to walk the circumference of the Earth from the comfort of his own backyard.
In a drier outing than one might expect from an authority on social satire, Nicholson (The London Complaint, 2016, etc.) explores the complicated consequences of a life spent in the business of torment. Our protagonist is Joe Johnson, a trained psychotherapist who has spent years in the service of “the Team,” a covert government agency that hired him to teach its operatives to resist torture. He’s recently resigned and, in the wake of a divorce from his wife, Carole, is adrift. Buying a small house a few hours north of London, Joe commits to walking 25 miles a day for 1,000 days to complete a circumnavigation of the planet, except that he’s not leaving his backyard. “I may not have been conspicuously, demonstrably happy, but I definitely wasn’t unhappy,” Joe says. “I was content with my life, taking pleasure in small things, and in the much larger thing of walking around the world.” But Joe’s backyard gets to be an increasingly crowded place with visits from nosy neighbors, a philosophical mailman, some local riff raff who start a trivial war with Joe, and a curious child. He finds solace in the company of a personal assistant, Miranda, an aspiring bartender who plies Joe with her experimental cocktails. Unfortunately, Joe’s unusual hobby attracts the attention of the local press and a would-be filmmaker, thrusting him into public view. For a man who has trespassed against so many souls, the past is never far behind, and the consequences of Joe’s actions soon come calling. It’s a strange book, not quite a thriller and yet oddly contemplative about the human condition, capturing the perpetual unease of a world seemingly forever at war with itself.
An existential revenge story offering a confession that doesn’t beg forgiveness.