Turbulent Wake, by Paul E Hardisty – book review

No messing: It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read a novel so unusual, so ambitious, so multi-layered. I don’t know if I can do it justice based on a single reading. I am sure that I have missed so much.

The book describes the lives of two men: Ethan Scofield and his late father, Warren. They were never close, but when Warren dies, Ethan finds a manuscript of short stories which outline key events in Warren’s life. So begins a thread of two narratives, each told in the first person.

I don’t like Ethan very much and Warren, too, is highly flawed. Indeed, with the exception of the slightly sainted (but always gutsy) Helena, no one really comes out of it well. Hardisty creates deliberately awful specimens of masculinity and femininity. 

But in Warren’s tale, if not that of his son, Hardisty tells the story of a life that could so nearly have been described as fully lived. Warren is an engineer who works in parts of the world where the environment is threatened, by war or over-development. He tries, largely, to do the right thing. But he is defeated by a time when he very clearly does the wrong thing. So much of Warren’s life (and Ethan’s, come to that) is out of his control. There are times when he is caught up in events not of his making, such as when he stumbles unknowingly into an IRA pub in Kilburn, or finds himself in the middle of a civil war. In presenting Warren’s story in this format, Hardisty gets us to consider the extent to which we write our own lives: do we document our actions, but, more importantly, to what extent are we in control of them?

Hardisty’s very careful to make Ethan and Warren well-nuanced characters. They are both high-functioning alcoholics, have outdated views on women and get into fights. They seem to regard these traits as an essential part of their own authenticity. They are also capable of acts of great kindness and are well-read. While they might not adequately observe social situations, Warren in particular can describe the natural habitat of the many countries he visits: his story is played out in front of amazing yet fragile and ultimately doomed backdrops that are meant through an assumed permanence to contrast against a humanity that can’t agree with itself.

And for most of the book neither Ethan nor Warren is comfortable in his own skin. Ethan describes his life as ‘a recurring pattern of abandoned hope’. We learn that he is possibly like this because of Warren’s self-loathing: his failure and regret and inability to forgive himself almost right up to the end of his life. Yet, as the layers of Warren’s life are peeled away before his eyes, it is Ethan who begins to understand that renewal is possible and indeed sometimes necessary.

Broken, beautiful, surprising, ugly, intense and challenging, Turbulent Wake invites us to reconsider our own approach to reconciliation and redemption. Outstanding.

Paul Hardisty previously contributed to our Secret Library feature. Check it out.

Turbulent Wake is available now as an e-book and is released in print on 16 May. Pre-order it here (affiliate link).

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.

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