A decade ago — eheu fugaces labuntur anni — Stuart Evers’s debut story collection, Ten Stories About Smoking, was one of the first books I ever reviewed, and I’ve kept tabs on his career ever since, in that spirit of comradely competitiveness one feels for a writer of a similar age launching at the same time. I spoke warmly of his first novel If This Is Home and enjoyed his second collection, Your Father Sends His Love, when it appeared in 2015.
But there was nothing in those earlier works to prepare me for the scale and ambition of The Blind Light. This extraordinary novel about Britain and Britishness spans six decades and uses the stories of two men and their families to delve revealingly into complex questions of class, fate and history.
The book begins in 2019’s unsettling territory, as we meet Nate and Anneka, a brother and sister reunited after a long separation. Nate perches on a grain silo (an object that eerily foreshadows much of the material ahead) and thinks back to when he and Anneka would spy on their neighbours — the family whose story was so intimately bound up with their own. As brother and sister negotiate the awkwardness of their reunion, it’s clear that some terrible event has altered both their lives and those of the neighbours.
We then move back to 1959, where we meet Drummond — Drum — Moore and Jim Carter, both doing National Service at Doom Town, a fictional site in Cumbria that is a mock-up of a post-apocalyptic village, complete with ‘authentic touches. A shoe burnt into a floorboard.