As if to answer those who failed to see the preoccupations of her Booker Prize-nominated first novel, The Dark Room, as universal, rather than specifically German, Rachel Seiffert has returned to the same themes – culpability, guilt and accountability – in a second novel set largely in modern Britain.
The novel tells the love story of an ordinary young couple, Alice and Joseph, who discover parallels between themselves and Alice’s late grandmother and recently widowed grandfather, David. Joseph is traumatised by his experiences as a soldier in Northern Ireland during the final years of the Troubles, while David remains haunted by his part in the Emergency in colonial Kenya during the 1950s. As a result, the women who love these two men must tread the perimeters of conversational territory with caution, in case a buried memory turns out to be a landmine.
Seiffert’s novel is structurally brilliant. The slow-moving first half forces the reader into the position of a wife or girlfriend waiting and gradually guessing at the thoughts and feelings of men returned home from wars. The last chapters are therefore powered by stored energy. Yet both Joseph’s and David’s ‘secrets’