I recently decided to sign up to the ‘Read More’ book subscription box from Golden Hare Books, an independent book shop in Edinburgh. This is a beautiful shop that I am hoping to visit one day, but in the meantime I thought I would sign up to receive some of their recommendations each month. The theme for December was ‘Onding’ which is a Scottish word for snow, and the book I received was To The Back Of Beyond by Peter Stamm, which looked like an ideal book to read on a cold winters evening.
The plot of this novel is a simple, but intriguing one, as it explores what happens if we were to disappear from our own life. Here we meet Thomas, who lives a seemingly idyllic family life with wife Astrid and their two children. After returning from a family holiday, life begins to get back to normal as they settle back into a routine and deal with the mundanities of domestic life. However, this normal family life is shattered when Thomas leaves the house, with no intention of returning any time soon. This immediately raises a lot of questions, and I was left to wonder what would drive a man to walk out on his family, leaving them in turmoil. The narrative alternates between two threads, as we follow Thomas as he leaves his life behind and his wife Astrid as she tries to maintain her family life, wondering if Thomas will ever return to her. I was intrigued to find out more about the characters and the reasons for their decisions, so I was gripped by this story.
I found To The Back Of Beyond to be a well written story which perfectly captures the uncertainty of Thomas and Astrid’s situation. And the truth behind Thomas’ disappearance remains vague, and whilst there are clues it is left largely to the reader to speculate on why he left his old life behind. This is a very atmospheric read, which explores themes of love and marriage, and abandonment. We see a family torn apart, and how both Thomas and Astrid respond to this extraordinary life event, in which their worlds are turned upside down, with neither party seemingly knowing which way to turn. At around 140 pages, this is a relatively short novel, but it is one that leaves you with a lot to think about. As the story drew to a close I realised that there would be questions left unanswered, and it didn’t conclude in a way I expected. I believe it is a story that it perhaps more about what is unsaid then what is known, leaving Thomas’ story open to interpretation.
To The Back Of Beyond was a book that I enjoyed, due to its quiet, unassuming prose and the chilling atmosphere it creates. An interesting little book which asks questions about our lives and identities, and how they can be changed.
To find out more about the ‘Read More’ subscription from Golden Hare Books, you can check out their website here.