cover image Batlava Lake

Batlava Lake

Adam Mars-Jones. Fitzcarraldo, $15.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-913097-62-2

British novelist and critic Mars-Jones (Box Hill) delivers a wry and offbeat story of a civilian man stationed in Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, during the Kosovo War. Barry Ashton, a recently divorced civil engineer, is sent to work as an auxiliary to the Royal Engineers corps in the capital. There, he slips between reflections on his recently ended marriage and surreal observations of the soldiers around him, at one point describing their protection of him as akin to circling the wagons around women and children in a western. An air of boredom suffuses the narrative, as Ashton describes how he and his companions pass the time: drinking games, a boat race, and a barbecue that goes terribly wrong when the Albanians detect the aroma of meat. The barbecue forms the crux of the novella’s surreal mood, as Ashton comments flippantly on the zombielike manner of the locals (“I’m not being nasty, but if bits of them had started dropping off, well... it wouldn’t have been a total shock. They’d had their lives taken away and not found a way back to them yet”). The chaotic structure can get confusing, but there’s no shortage of entertainment value. Mars-Jones’s intensely comical depiction of a thoroughly British state of mind makes this a hoot. Agent: Anna Webber, United Agents. (Nov.)