Tag Archives: Epoque Press

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

Cover imageBack 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.

El Hacho by Luis Carrasco: A Spanish fable

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I’m always a little wary when small publishers approach me to review a book, and époque press is tiny. If a book from a large conglomerate turns out not to suit that’s one thing but for a press as small as this one it’s entirely different. Sporting a ringing endorsement from Jon McGregor on it’s beautiful jacket, Luis Carrasco’s El Hacho is the first book époque have published. Set in the mountains above Ronda in Andalucia, Carrasco’s slim novella – barely more than a hundred pages – reads like a fable deeply rooted in the landscape of southern Spain.

Curro was born and raised on the olive farm his father and his father’s father cultivated for years. He remembers his father courteously rebuffing approaches to buy their ancestral land, twice offering a man from Malaga a handful of home-grown almonds and sending him on his way. Curro lives in the old family home with his wife Carmen, farming the land alongside his brother who comes up from the village at the foot of the mountain each day. This year the south is in the grip of an autumnal drought. As Curro and Jean-Marie labour in the searing heat, Marie complains while Curro placates. It’s clear that Curro sees himself as the guardian of this mountain grove where both his parents are buried while Marie has his sights set on an easier life. When Marie fails to appear for several days, Curro takes himself off to the village, visiting the bar where he knows his brother will inevitably show his face. They come to an arrangement that will cost Curro dear. Not long after, the drought finally breaks in a storm which is biblical in its ferocity.

Written in simple, clean prose from which vividly evocative descriptions sing out, this is a remarkable debut both for its author and publisher. Carrasco’s writing is strikingly poetic at times, stripped of ornament and all the better for it:

Without these trees I’m just a man, which is nothing much to be Curro’s father tells the man from Malaga

The olives hung weakly on their stalks, unresponsive to the touch and sad like rickety children observes Curro

We’re all spokes on the same wheel Marie. We turn together declares Curro of their community

There’s a timelessness about Carrasco’s novella. Despite the lure of the modern world, Curro remains quietly loyal to his family and to his neighbours while his brother succumbs to the temptations of what he thinks money can buy. Tuck this one into your case if you’re off to Spain for your holiday, or anywhere really. I wish I had, although the Spain of Madrid and Toledo is very different from Curro’s.