The First World War slowly claims one of its last victims, a conscientious objector left mute by the horrors of the great slaughter.
Booker-finalist Booth (Industry of Souls, 1999, etc.) cuts back and forth between 1914 Scotland, where young archaeologist Alec Marquand researches a prehistoric site, and a nursing home in present-day England, where his life is slipping away. Too, there are scenes from the battlefield, where the taste of war is bitter enough to make Marquand withdraw from the rest of his life—which could and should have been so good. Smart and deeply sensual, Marquand chose a career whose first job took him to a Neolithic stone tower on coastal land owned by a Scottish laird. Living in a primitive fishing village among superstitious locals, Marquand catches a glimpse of light on a nearby and supposedly uninhabited island. Close examination leads to another stone tower and a glimpse of a young girl. The girl comes and goes with supernatural ease, but she’s real, the bastard child of an earlier laird who placed her in the care of deaf mutes to see whether she would mature to speak the language of angels. Warned by his well-lettered landlord that the villagers fear the off-islanders as malevolent spirits, Marquand revisits the site and is delighted to find himself more or less stalked by the girl when she swims across the separating channel to visit him at his dig. The quick warmth that sparks lights between the speechless girl and the lonely young man becomes his only comfort and eventual grasp on sanity when he’s yanked from his work by the long reach of his odious stepfather, a retired colonel, and thrust, as a medic, into the monstrous meat grinder of the Great War. His subsequent complete and voluntary withdrawal from human intercourse ends only in the last days of his life, when he allows a young doctor to approach.
Somber, intelligent, poignant and powerful.