The Silent Brother

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A gritty and haunting look at the ravages of shame and abuse extending from childhood into the life-long decay of self and identity, this book is somewhat reminiscent of the also magnificent “Shuggie Bain”.

A graceful and compassionate triumph – a brilliant book that will hurt to read – this story cannot help but draw the reader into inescapable and heart-felt connections with characters so raw and authentic that their traumas will inevitably become your own.

Difficult to face in many places, this story pulls no punches, leading the reader into the darkest corners of poverty, alcoholism, abuse and despair – as encountered in the lives of a young family, situated in Newcastle, UK, in the grim and depressing sub-culture of the 1990’s.

Tommy Boyle, our first person POV narrator, who begins our story at the tender age of five years old, is already deep in the throes of more pain, fear and violence than most of us, thankfully, will accumulate in a lifetime.

Tommy’s life is beyond challenging, as he is torn between his inability to protect his younger brother (four-year-old Benjy); his adoration of his beautiful but tragically-addicted mother (she of the “soft black hair, shiny boots and long velvety coat”); and the uncontrollable hatred, fear and rage invoked by his vicious and terrifying stepfather, Daryl.

If you’re told it often enough, who will not believe they are broken, unable to love and be loved?

Where does one go, with a lifetime of accumulated hate and fear and grief and sorrow, except straight on a downhill spiral, following the “Devils footprints”, “through paths lit in raging scarlet”?

“You can’t escape where you come from. You can try, but you can’t escape who you are.“

Or can you?

As Tommy’s life unfolds, wildly and chaotically – leaving him emotionally, physically, and morally fractured – it’s impossible for the reader not to ache for him, his choices, and “all the things that might’ve been”.

Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), it’s a rare book that passes my lump-in-the-throat test, not once, but several times – the end of this novel so delicately and skillfully easing open the proverbial floodgates, that this reader, left awash in emotion, could not help but feel awe at a story so deftly and satisfyingly resolved.

I loved this book, loved its challenging yet thoughtful look at the interplay of alcoholism, shame, violence and the maelstrom of damage left in its wake. Throughout it all, Tommy and those closest to him are characters constructed with such grace and compassion, that for this reader, our visit, as brief as it may be, cannot help but leave a lasting imprint.

A great big thank you to the author for an ARC of this brilliant and powerful book. All thoughts presented are my own.


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