cover image The Slowworm’s Song

The Slowworm’s Song

Andrew Miller. Europa, $18 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-60945-800-3

In this meditative if diffuse offering from Miller (Pure), the past comes calling for an ex-soldier whose actions 30 years earlier during the Troubles continue to weigh on him. As a young British infantryman patrolling Belfast in 1982, Stephen Rose was involved in a fatal incident, the specifics of which are murky. Now, a recovering alcoholic working at a plant store in Somerset, he receives a letter requesting he travel to Belfast and give an account of the tragedy for an impartial body known as the “Commission.” As he decides whether to comply, he composes a long letter to his estranged, 20-something daughter, Maggie, hoping to reconnect. “If one day you were to look at me as some of the people in that room in Belfast would look at me. Could I survive it?” he asks. The narrative tentatively circles around what happened in 1982, as Stephen recounts being raised by a pacifist father, training for combat, and, in the novel’s slackest sections, drying out in rehab centers. The dramatic highlights do not exert quite enough pull to sustain the novel’s tension; as Stephen himself reflects, “I’d say it’s a fine line between telling old stories and just banging on about the what-was.” There’s a lot driving this affecting exploration of truth and reconciliation, but it doesn’t quite hang together. (Oct.)