2012 Man Booker Prize: Communion Town

Communion Town, by Sam Thompson

I spent the whole night going over those words. I took a late run to calm down. Maybe it doesn’t hurt to be reminded now and then that the city can clobber you whenever it likes, but the odd thing, it occurred to me as I pushed myself forward with my head bowed under the streetlamps, tarmac filling my vision and grit scraping between my soles and the pavement, was that just for a moment I had been on the side of the malcontents. As I had walked away I’d been half-mad with resentment. That can’t be right, can it?
I ran through the small streets around my place, encountering cars, dark and crouched with their headlights up, waiting, their intentions obscure. It was one of those stifling nights when the lamps only smear the murk and, run as I might, my past opened up underneath my feet: I found my legs working in emptiness and I drifted like a balloonist over the depth of my personal time, seeing straight down to the bottom. Long ago, I felt, I had been the victim of some fleeting violence, of no great importance to the perpetrator but enough to leave me bent and scarred, sculpted casually into what, now, I’d always be.

Communion Town is more like a city than a town, somewhere, anywhere, in the western hemisphere. You will learn much but not enough about this unreal yet not entirely unfamiliar place, its architecture, its music and its people in ten chapters from ten different perspectives: an unnamed man, an unnamed self-thought musician, a boy, a private detective named Hal Moody, a butcher, two girls named Dawn and Andie, a detective assistant named Cassandra Byrd, an unnamed university administrator, a bar guest, and finally, a guy named Simon.

‘What kind of city is it,’ he asked, ‘where we sit here and gobble up this stuff, then shake our heads and do nothing? And tomorrow we buy the paper again for more. How do we explain it to ourselves? Tell ourselves we’re not responsible? Doing nothing has its own cost.’

It can be any city or any town really. Floating in the sand of time. Ageless.
While this context can be a strength, it’s also becomes Communion Town‘s weakness. Most of the stories really could happen literally anywhere, everywhere, town or no town. Sam Thompson could have just renamed and reframed it as ‘London’, ‘Oxford’, or even ‘Chicago’; and it could as well be five, or fifteen, or even twenty stories, without much difference to the readers.

Check out my other 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist reviews:
Bring Up the Bodies
The Teleportation Accident
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


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