Fallow by Daniel Shand
They say write what you know, and so many debut novels are rooted in the author’s everyday with the result as dreary and mundane as most lives truthfully are. Daniel Shand dares to make his debut, Fallow, both close to home and fantastical. Dark fantasy at that; a squid-ink black road trip through a surreal but recognisable Scotland. It is brave and nasty, occasionally and uncomfortably funny, always eminently readable.
Shand tells the story of Mikey and Paul: brothers carrying the burden of a hidden history which refuses to lay dormant, continually surfacing from the murky waters of memory. The book’s cover image is troublingly reminiscent of the closing shot of John Boorman’s Deliverance – that dark tale of guilt and repression, culminating in an horrific submerged truth weighed down with rocks. The recreational cruelty of Shand's brothers also offers reflections of Michael Haneke’s impishly provocative Funny Games.
On the literary side this is closer in tone and viewpoint to The Wasp Factory, with its unreliable and uneasy first person narration, and like that work it is both disturbing and intriguing to live inside the mind Shand constructs on the page. He colours this central character well, yet not fully, and while a further spoon-fed back story is uneccessary, additional rounding could have been added to the warped psychology. If we're being critical, the final section also seems a little rushed, as if dots are being joined for the final conclusion and one or two are missed.
Those points aside, this is a thrilling work, unafraid to delve into the mind's dark corners yet measured in how this is carried out; devoid of garish exploitation. The prose is confidently stripped down in the main, its function to move the narrative along at pace, yet punctuated occasionally by fine poetic flourishes; an egg bleeds ‘a string of daisy yolk’ and a water’s edge is marbled like meat. This should herald an exciting new name in Scottish literature, one who has the reader’s experience clearly in mind and is willing to thrill and disgust in equal measure.