The Slowworm’s Song by Adam Miller
This story of a man struggling to reconcile his past, laden with guilt and regret and to forge a loving relationship with an estranged daughter is poignant and moving. Fine writing and an intelligent approach to human frailty and redemption make this a compelling narrative.
This is the second of Andrew Miller’s books to come into the hands of this reader. They both address issues of soldiers dealing with the aftermath of their actions in battle. The first is Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, also from Europa from 2019. In both cases, deeds performed in the heat of conflict return to exert pressure upon men who bear the guilt of having killed the innocent, or of appearing to have done so.
Here we meet Stephen Rose, a British soldier sent to Belfast in the early 1980s to participate in the quelling of violence. He is tortured by his part in the carnage and has been writing about his experiences in hope of reconciling with his daughter, whom he has not seen for many years and who is estranged, not least by his absence but also by his alcoholism. The narrative is almost a love letter to her: an explanation of the hows and whys of his actions and his genuine remorse about them and about his dereliction of her. The anguish he experiences is palpable: he suffers greatly from the original sin in this case, but perhaps more due to his inability to connect with his child.
What Miller does here (and in previous works) is magical. In plain language, without hyperbole or florid description he stages a tragedy of classic proportions. The reader feels each small step forward and each relapse with intimate sensitivity. This man has a noble character shackled to a frail humanity and a crippling conscience. The tale is one with which one may easily identify: why did I do that, what could I have done differently, how can I atone for my grievous error, and is there redemption for me? Salvation is attainable, but the path leads through fire, and the end is not assured.
The author is the winner of the Costa Award and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This will not surprise anyone who reads his prose. It is masterful and moving.