The Guard by Peter Terrin
Harry and Michel live in the basement of a luxury apartment block, guarding the inhabitants. No-one goes outside. The world might be at war – it might even have been plunged into nuclear winter. No-one knows.
All Harry and Michel know is that if they are vigilant, ‘the Organization’ will reward them: promotion to an elite cadre of security officers remains their shining goal.
But what if there were no-one left to guard? And if the promised relief shift arrives, how will they fit in to Michel and Harry’s studied routine of boredom and paranoia?
I have to say when I received an early review copy of ‘The Guard’ I was instantly excited as it was said to be comparable to the works of China Mieville and Philip K. Dick, and with it winning the European Union Prize for Literature, I thought I was definitely onto something good here!
Sadly I can only express complete and utter frustration towards this book. First thing’s first, it isn’t a complete write-off. Peter Terrin as a writer has intrigued me. This story set in an obscure and seemingly apocalyptic world, but which we receive very few details about; centres around two guards are left in charge of a block of flats and its residents. We see everything through the eyes of one guard named Michel, as himself and Harry patrol the building. One by one, the residents leave for no apparent reason, leaving just one resident living there. What Terrin does well here is build up an incredible amount of tension that results from the extreme feelings of paranoia which comes from both Harry and Michel. Both share an intricate routine that they have mastered and follow to the utmost precision. They want to be part of the elite guard and receive a promotion, so everything must be performed to the highest standard, even though they have no idea who is still out there. There are some really well-crafted scenes here, and ones that clearly showcase Terrin’s talent, and his abilities to get into the mindset of his characters.
The trouble with this book for me, is the extremely disjointed and fragmented nature of it. We are often led to what appear to be memories, but which are not clearly highlighted, and often meanderings of Michel’s mind which have a rather dream-like quality to them, but which I ended up growing rather tired of. Half of the time something major would happen, but the way it was explained was so obscure that I didn’t even know that’s what Terrin had meant, and would only discover it several chapters later. A lot of the time, I had no idea what was really happening and what wasn’t. I suppose, in some respects, this may have been Terrin’s aim – to depict their confusion amongst the paranoia. But for me, it was a good idea that needed a little more work.
The other problem with this book is the complete lack of answers. I couldn’t really work out what was meant to be going on outside the block of flats, in the rest of the world. Was it a nuclear explosion, a war, or a pandemic? I really had no idea, and even by the end I was still left utterly clueless. I have to admit even with the last 20 pages in reach, I wanted to give up, and I almost wish I had simply because the ending accumulated into nothing. I wanted answers and I didn’t get them. I was left frustrated and confused, and this is not what you want at the end of a book.
To sum up, I can definitely see great talent in the depths of this book, but this obscure concept needed much more for it to really grow into something that could really grip you. I loved the paranoia aspect of it, but felt that it could have been handled much better, and more answers could have been given. If you’re looking for a mind-bender of a book then this may be for you. It is pretty unique in a way, but one I think I’d hesitate to recommend. However, if you’d like to read a review of the book that puts a more positive slant on it please click here, which will take you to the Starburst Magazine website.
The Guard is released on the 30th August, published by MacLehose, an imprint of Quercus. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.