The price of our mistakes

Carry the One

Carol Anshaw

Penguin €8.99;

adobe ebook, €5.49

Review: Andrew Melsom

A car is full of young people from the Fleetwood Mac generation who are “... too tired, too stoned and goofed up on sex”. They are enjoying a post-wedding hallucinogenic conviviality only achievable in youth — on floors, in cars, gazing at galaxies while sharing badly-rolled joints.

Everyone recalls a time when shared irresponsibility oiled friendships. We spend the rest of our lives wondering why such friendships are never again created at the same level of intensity. In fits of nostalgia we can remember the things we did back then — and laugh.

The people on this car journey are in the “... last hour of making mistakes with small prices”. The driver kills a child, and the passengers become the central characters in Carol Anshaw’s story of an eclectic group that become inexorably linked through the next 25 years. Some are related, some have relationships with each other while they seek to define what impact the accident has had on them let alone the child who died. They seek closure through assorted avenues.

Alice and Maude were making out in the back of the car at the time of the accident and decide to continue their lives together. Alice becomes a painter and Maude takes bit parts in soaps. Unlike the degenerative detail of Dorian Gray’s portrait, Alice’s project to paint the victim of the accident in life fails, “I never saw her alive ... When I see her now she’s suspended in one or another piece of the time we stole from her.”

Nick, Alice’s brother, who was also in the car, realises that he watched the girl coming into view from within a pharmaceutical trance. Instead of alerting the driver he wanted to see what would happen; if the car hit the girl. He becomes addicted to drugs and whores, but makes a pilgrimage to the victim’s family looking for forgiveness. He loses blood, teeth and consciousness as this was “... probably what he came for”.

This is the book you buy if you want to know how to write a novel. Learn how to describe a crumbling relationship “... as though she was back in real estate, showing a dazzling house she knew held ferocious mould in the basement.” Carmen, who is straight but titillated, tries to imagine love between women, “... a languid extension of friendship. Something Virginia Woolf-ish involving tea and conversation on sofas ... a small lamp needing to be turned on but left unlit”.

The characters could be any collective of the era. They need not have been brought together by a killing but that is the chosen framework.

There is some retro fitting to remind us that what happened to the five friends was because of the tragedy, but this is the best observed and recounted story regardless of the plot.

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