A despairing portrait of humanity as it exists on Britain’s Fenland coast at the end of WWII.
Concealed in the dunes, James Mercer watches as 15-year-old Mary Lynch walks the shores of the Fens in the summer of 1946. The moment is significant. Mercer spends much of this somber tale carefully observing the inhabitants of a small village and the workers who have come there to dismantle, under his supervision, gun platforms built during the war. Mercer also studies, then becomes engaged with two men: Jacob Haas, a Dutch Jew and concentration camp survivor mourning the loss of his sister Anna; and Mathias Weisz, a German soldier captured at Normandy by the British. Regarding their experiences from his home in a tower at the edge of an abandoned airfield, Mercer realizes that life in this “wasteland” during peacetime will scarcely differ from their desperate existences on the continent during wartime. In trenchant dialogues, Mercer and his acquaintances look to the dark past and the bleak future. Haas, in failing health, recalls sadistic and harrowing camp incidents, one of which took the life of his sister. Weisz remembers the dissolution of his home. Mercer gradually becomes more actively committed to the lives around him. He moves to defend Lynch from her crude, bullying father and to protect Haas from the violent anti-Semitism of workers who fear the loss of their jobs and the inevitable dissolution of the village, which Edric renders in stark images. Seeking refuge from an angry mob, Weisz and Haas again find themselves in hiding; the postwar period brings no significant change or improvement to their lives. The war, Mercer observes, “still clung to everything it had once touched.”
With spare, lean prose, British novelist Edric (The Broken Lands, 2001, etc.) creates a haunting and disturbing meditation about an empty, abandoned world passing through a meaningless transition.