The Groundsmen by Lynn Buckle: A Greek tragedy of a novel

Cover image Back in May I reviewed Luis Carrasco’s El Hacho, the first publication from époque press, with which I was very impressed. Lynn Buckle’s novel is their second and could not be more different. Not that it isn’t impressive but whereas El Hacho was a timeless, fable-like novella written in clean, spare prose, The Groundsmen explores a supremely dysfunctional family telling their story in their own voices. It’s like having a nest of angry wasps in your head.

Louis and Cally have two daughters, both named after characters who people the Greek myths in which Cally takes refuge to escape her powder keg of husband. Louis looks to his brother Toby to keep him order. They spend much of their time together, even working for the same firm where Louis has carved out a role for himself as a techie. Only Toby grasps the full horror of what happened to Louis when he was a child, having been subjected to the same abuse by Uncle Brown, the groundsman. Both men have perpetuated the cycle, but whereas Toby has a semblance of adult responsibility, Louis careers from crisis to crisis, deeply embroiled in a torment of denial, misogynistic sexual fantasy and self-absorption. When Toby is made redundant amidst rumours of ‘inappropriate’ material found on his computer, Louis fears he may not be far behind, wrapping himself in his usual denial until he is asked to return all his electronic devices. As things begin to unravel even further for Louis, Cally realises she must break out of her stupor for the sake of her children. Meanwhile, five-year-old Cassie escapes her fractured family by turning herself into a dog in her head while fourteen-year-old Andi takes the more dangerous route of finding a boyfriend online.

Buckle’s novel is mercifully short. It’s not a book to enjoy, more one to admire. She tells her family’s story in bursts of interior monologue, a very effective device although these are people whose heads you won’t want to spend much time in. Louis veers chaotically from grandiosity to literally vomiting out his secrets; Cally seems paralysed by years of his cruelty and neediness; Andi retreats into social media, lonely and ripe for grooming while Cassie invents happy families for herself when she’s not channelling Blackie. Only Toby appears to have a veneer of responsibility. The measure of the success of Buckle’s novel lies in the sheer discomfort it provokes. It was a relief to finish it. I found the ending a little bewildering but it’s impossible not to admire the audacity of this unsettling piece of fiction.

17 thoughts on “The Groundsmen by Lynn Buckle: A Greek tragedy of a novel”

  1. Well done for persevering with this one! As you know, it was too disturbing for me and I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I think you’ve written a really perceptive review that highlights the admirable qualities of the author’s craft whilst not hiding the challenging nature of the book’s content. I do have a review copy of El Hacho from the publishers to read at some point and I’m hoping that will be a more positive experience.

    1. Thanks so much, Cathy. It wasn’t an easy review to write and I know you understand why that is which makes me all the more apprecioative of your comment. I though El Hacho was a little gem. I hope you have better luck with that than you did with this one.

  2. I can’t think of any better summary of this book than “like having a nest of angry wasps in your head.” Bravo!

    It’s a hard sell, though, don’t you think? The sheer darkness of it all, the unrelenting horror – I can’t imagine sales will be high.

    1. Thank you, Tom, and it certainly is a hard sell! A very brave piece of writing – and publishing given how small epoque press are – but not a book for the faint-hearted.

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