Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Review: 'The Unquiet' by John Connelly

Review by exmearden (Nom de plume) 
"As for where your wife and child dwell, they are where you keep them."
The above is a quote from John Connelly’s latest book, The Unquiet, one of my favorite Irish crime novelists. One of his more terrifying characters, a creature who may be a man or may not be, who may be some type of righteous angel fallen to earth or a deluded psychopathic monster, The Collector, speaks those words in answer to a painful question asked by the protagonist of Connelly's series of books – Charlie Parker.
Several books ago, Connelly initiated Charlie Parker’s story in his first novel, Every Dead Thing. The tales are woven around a sub-theme of the grief and guilt Parker experiences after the murder of his wife and child in the country house that they shared. These murders were committed by a particularly nasty vicious brand of evil incarnate, in retribution for Parker’s own deadly actions.
Parker's reputation is developed around several righteous and violent attempts to defeat the evil that he encounters. A theme develops and it is hinted to the reader, more in some books in the series than in others (though resisted by Parker), that Parker himself is something other than mere mortal. Parker has encountered The Collector in previous novels and he is always fearful of the consequences, because he knows that The Collector collects "mementos" from souls he has cast into an abyss of the previously lost.
But this time, in this novel, Parker is compelled to ask The Collector why his wife and child still physically haunt him in the house he still lives in. Parker’s maintenance of the house and the haunting lost family who inhabit the attics and upper hallways have finally driven Parker’s second wife and child away from him.  Parker avoids a conscious awareness of why his first family has not found peace. As a reader, you know that the plaintive question he asks is a question for which he knows the answer. It is often thus in all of us with the questions that surround grieving and guilt.
"As for where your wife and child dwell, they are where you keep them."
This phrase has stayed with me, drapes around my brain and cloaks my heart, long after I closed the back cover of The Unquiet. It’s just a novel, you might say. But as in much decent, compelling fiction, a wiping of truth across the tale can turn the reader into a part of the story, if the author’s aim is true. I was Parker as he asked the question; I could have been the wife or the child, peering through at Parker from behind the veil that ripples over unquiet souls, souls who will not let go of the living and will not move forward to a completion of death, wherever that destination may be. I was also The Collector, so repulsive, yet discerning of men's (and women's) souls. But as merely the reader, I fully understand what is meant by "they are where you keep them".
All our dead are where we keep them. The rationale for this "collecting" of our own may lie in the last connection dead souls grasp across once-shared lives. A paper trail through personal letters, cherished and inherited belongings scented with old perfume, sometimes monolithic buildings that commemorate ourselves or others so honored, memorial roads named in honor of long-dead benefactors – we may think that all these mean nothing if we let our memories of the dead go. We might feel that the dead mean nothing if we forget, collectively or individually, personally or as a society.
But forgetting can be release as well. What other critical memory or what essential feeling is displaced in a damaged heart, when one is constantly summoning a reminder or remainder of a deceased loved one? Does grief try to fill an emotional hole that could more rightfully serve the living? Does a certain stay of grief counterbalance or soothingly dilute the amount of pain felt after loss?
What actions do you take when walking forward from grief? Where do you keep them?
"... they are where you keep them."

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.