Posted by Paul Samael on Friday, June 29, 2012 Under: Book reviews
“Coming Home” by Chris Gallagher is a full length novel about Aidan Pennock’s return to the Yorkshire village where he grew up, following many years in the army, including tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Put like that, it sounds like it could be a rather dour affair, focussing on the well trodden fictional path of a soldier having difficulty adapting to civilian life. But refreshingly, Aidan is not the kind of personality to just sit around wallowing in self-pity. There is an incident during his time in the army that he clearly hasn’t quite come to terms with – and it may be that quite a bit of what he gets up to during the novel is essentially displacement activity, designed to stop him thinking about it. But the novel is just as much about the impact of his return on his three closest childhood friends, Brax, Jazz and Callie, who have all remained in the area. All of them – not just Aidan - are confronted in the course of the novel with the need to make decisions about what to do with the rest of their lives. Aidan’s return, meanwhile, raises the stakes by disturbing the dynamic of their existing relationship.
Although the novel is primarily character-driven, the plot zips along and is quite racy in parts – so much so that at certain points, I even began to wonder if the gritty Yorkshire setting had been exchanged for some steamy Latin American locale. Fortunately several of these episodes were swiftly followed by incidents involving the senseless slaughter of defenceless animals, which helped to remind me where I was, geographically. I should add that when I say “racy”, I don’t mean in a particularly explicit way – most of it is left to your imagination (and is very much the better for it).
Is it any good? Well, I wouldn’t be reviewing it if I didn’t think so – and I’m pleased to see that I’m not the only person who feels that way (see the clutch of 5 star reviews on the book’s Smashwords page). I thought the dialogue and characterisation were particularly strong. There were also several very striking, almost cinematic, incidents in the book, which have lodged in my memory - particularly a scene involving a passing search-and-rescue helicopter and the very last scene of the book (which I won’t describe so as not spoil the ending) .
Finally, this book is written from a Christian perspective - which I confess made me hesitate at first, because I thought (wrongly, as it turns out) that it might turn out to be moralising propaganda in disguise. But one of the great strengths of the novel is that this aspect isn’t rammed down your throat – it’s only really to the fore in one or two scenes and it’s handled very lightly. Nor is it the case that the author sits in judgment on his characters, eager to demonstrate how the bad ones will definitely be going to hell etc etc. The characters’ flaws are certainly on display, but they are portrayed with such sympathy and understanding that it’s hard not to like them, despite their imperfections. So if (like me) you don’t share the author’s religious faith, I really would urge you not to be put off by the spiritual aspects of this novel.
UPDATE 12.2012: At the time of this review, “Coming Home” was available free from Smashwords and Feedbooks. However, it has since been removed and now only appears to be available from Amazon as a paid-for download - click here to sample the first chapter.
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