Featherbones by Thomas Brown (Book Review)
‘The deep mewing of a gull draws Felix from his dreams.’
The opening line to Thomas Brown’s second novel sets the tone perfectly for what is to come. You could say that Felix never fully wakes from his dreams, for he sees winged creatures wherever he looks, he sees the dark waters of the sea, he sees the feathered arms of his friends, he sees the haunting embers of his dreams, in the cold and soulless monotony of his life.
As the story progresses we see how Felix didn’t always have trouble with his dreams, not since he was young and his father sent him to a doctor to cure them, but his nightmares have returned, and they begin to invade his personal life. They stem from the fact his life seems to have no direction; something is holding him back, something that he didn’t face when he was younger. Loss is heavy on his mind, a loss that manifests itself in the very town where he lives, for he is surrounded by the sea, and the sea is brought to him on the salty air, and by the gulls that seem to be everywhere, and there seems to be no way out.
But all is not lost; he finds solace in his friend Michael, who is both his friend and work colleague. It is Michael who he turns to when he needs to talk, and Michael helps him to see that his dreams are running wild because he blames himself for Harriet’s drowning, a girl that Felix knew when he was just 13, but lost her to the dark waters of a flood. It isn’t until he realises this that he finds the route, or at least a part of the route, to his unhappiness. It however doesn’t dissolve the monotony of his job, of drunken nights out, or the meaninglessness of his life. For that he has to search further, he has to fall deeper within himself, to sink beneath the waves of his dreams, for he must first find the bottom, before he can hope to resurface from the silt of his life.
The book works on many different levels, and I was surprised how Brown managed to keep the description fresh, without ever falling into the trap of monotony, which could have easily happened in a story like this that relies on a certain amount of repetition for effect. Also the characterisation in the story was pitch perfect, Michael’s was especially rich, but subtle in its crafting. And just a note on some other reviews I have read, saying that the description was too much, or that the editing could have been sharper, well I couldn’t disagree more. I didn’t feel there were any unnecessary passages, and the prose was so varied and lyrical, I was happy that an editor hadn’t sabotaged it by making it needlessly more succinct.
I hope I have whetted your appetite for Featherbones, for I feel everybody can gain something from reading it. It’s one of those novels that can give the reader what they’re willing, or able to take from it. Some may not see the depth or the ingenuity of Brown’s allegorical prose; some may float upon the surface of its richness, but never truly delve into its waters, perhaps through fear of drowning. But I personally feel this book is rich, lyrical, and rhythmic like the sea itself, and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time
***** Five Stars