Questions of identity, randomness, fate and sin collide in a curious tale of what makes an unremarkable Englishman’s life unique.
That life, belonging to “a man in late middle age” named James Watson Bolsover, is reviewed during a stormy ferry ride to an island on which he is to take up a new existence. Born of working-class parents, Bolsover was poorly educated but given to big questions. “How did I get here?” he wondered in 1954, when he was only ten. It’s the first of many philosophical enigmas to be debated in Corrick’s second novel (The Navigation Log, 2003) as he retraces his protagonist’s odyssey. Bolsover always tried to improve himself, reading widely. His passion for words led to a career as a technical writer, later success as a copywriter. Married to Kitty, who was initially frigid and nervous, he wooed her with storytelling that unleashed her passionate sexual nature. But Kitty died, leaving Bolsover lonely. One fateful snowy night, he had sex with a young prostitute and, driving away afterward, killed a child in a traffic accident. Now the trip to the island explains itself: Bolsover has served his sentence and been given a new identity to protect him from the threat of violence from the dead child’s father. Corrick’s affectionate depiction of a small English life sometimes recalls Mark Haddon, but the book also features surreal, symbolic touches. Its cast of enigmatic characters includes a ship’s captain, a young roller-blader and a birdwatcher. The parable-like tale concludes as Bolsover firmly steps toward the future, with all its uncertainties and possibilities.
At times endearing, at others perfunctory: an intriguing attempt to ponder big ideas in a small way.