Richard L, Reviewer
Last updated on 24 Aug 2017
I Recommend This Book
I Recommend This Book
This is a story of our times, a modern tale set in the aftermath of a depression hit Scotland through the eyes of Willem J Gyle.
Willem is a large hulk of a man, a gentle giant who has a fundamental learning difficulty that isn't so obvious to the general populace. He relies on his Mam, she has found him a job labouring and encouraged him to save. Her wisdom and the stories shared with him are his boundaries and insight into the world. He has learned to live within his understanding and has a distrust of outsiders. Willem is a simple soul who enjoys his life even though he knows he doesn't want to spend it in the fast lane.
Unfortunately his Mam cannot protect and shield him from the harsher realities that a new day can bring. So when he turns up to work only to be locked out due to the recession hit building trade his life is irreversably changed for the worse. He spends days sitting outside the locked gates wishing they'd re-open and wondering about who would oil the padlock.
Shortly after this, his mother suffers a seizure and his point of reference is lost. Following her death he will lose his home, his money and access to benefits. Very quickly he is reduced to homelessness and all the struggles this entails to stay safe and survive on the streets.
In my opinion this is the strongest part of the book as the story stresses the gradual decline for Willem from personal attacks while rough sleeping, the attempts to beg to be able to buy food and the loss of his dog. Much of Willem's actions can be seen to be animalistic in their simplicity and the inner drive to survive. He is a great observer of the natural world and he is facinated by the phases in the season from bird migration to leaf changes on the trees. He sees things others fail to see and has an infinity for birds like owls and robins.
Soon he is robbed by a 'friend' and quickly descends from his own petty thieving to more violent assaults. While others appear to be on the look out for him he becomes known to and wanted by the police.
You can't fail to warm to his simple, trusting character with the attributes of a child but the physicality of a professional bouncer.
The reader has to re-evaluate their affinity for Willem as his life choices err and we feel our own sense of right and wrong is being challenged and we make judgements on this character we previously embraced without reservation.
Willem's transcendence is a path to self awareness and an informed choice to be his own person. He is increasingly feral as he leaves the city and flees to the wilderness of the highlands.
his salvation is short-lived when those who initially value him treat him less than their own animals who he would gladly have watched and farmed with them for free lodging and board.
I liked the time taken and his listening of others that Willems displays in a simple "Mm". It is also one of the best accounts of homelessness issues and especially seen in the life of people with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour that I have read.
It is a journey we share with Willem; engage with his hopes and dreams and dispair at his setbacks; where we welcome those who aid him and quickly harden our views when he oversteps our moral compass. We rarely see into Willem's world or grasps his difficulties but we remain quick to judge such people. We can not walk in his steel capped boots but this novel helps us toughen up and get our spiritual fitness into shape. The narrative is a blend of socitey's ills that is warming beverage to challenge our human superiority and ethical code. Drink deep of this book and allow the author to challenge and enable you to holdback on those judgemental platitudes. How would you respond to Willem there are others like him in all our towns and cities.