The Quarters by Errol Bray (2017). This review is by John Cook

The Quarters

The cover of this book led me a little astray. I rather expected a tale in inner city urban gang fighting with plenty of blood and guts and perhaps some human interest to add to the mix. It turned out to be that in part but much, much, more. The author set himself a sizable task with a lot happening, explanations needed and a extensive cast. Initially, things move along a little slowly as there is a lot to put in place and relationships to establish while things do become surprisingly edgier. The author uses a method of mixed length observational passages and added dialogue that, at times, read like lines from a play with directions. There are also chapter headings in the manner of a Victorian novel.

 

The structure is interesting with nods in the direction of some classical literary features (Homer?) while based upon the concept of an ‘apart’ community which has been forced in upon itself by always threatening external circumstances. It has to evolve within its own resources means of socialization and governance that cover the full range of human needs and survival. The method of delivery is rather like that of a chronicle, the age old concept of an observer who records largely dispassionately, though in this case, with more compassion, wit and humour, relaying the flow of events in this living social organism. There is a series of colliding events which spark changes, growth and sometimes loss. There is birth, life and death, at all levels, and plenty of it. There is hope, despair and resolution.

 

The author is closely associated with the world of drama and he mines this with a central role being given to a ‘street’ production of Hamlet and its sequelae providing a link with the ‘outside’ world along with other small commercial activities. A charming note is the use of a naïf ‘street’ Homer who provides a commentating voice from within on notes ranging from humour to deep tragedy.

 

With our larger world confronting another industrial revolution with the customary winners and losers and the seeds of so much dissatisfaction, loss and anger, a book like this is a timely reminder of how finely balanced our ‘civilization’ can be and the potential forms of chaos that are always waiting at the door, and sometimes within our very selves.

 

Right from the beginning, there is a clear and developing interest in relationships and sex. This seems to intensify and deepen toward the conclusion, perhaps as a response to the evolving environment. These relationships cover the full range of human pairings in ways that are exploratory and largely satisfying.

 

Given the populations involved, the author has kept the dialogue largely free from rough language and any over-use of profanity which is often pointless and solely used for repetitive emphasis. The result is simple, clear expression quite capable of conveying the range of emotional contexts encountered.

 

This is a surprising not-so fantasy tale which is at once a possible harbinger and an entertaining tale.

 

 

 

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