When a stone shatters in the frost, is it because of the frost, or is it because the fault line was always there, deep inside the stone?
Paul Torday’s latest novel, More Than You Can Say, follows returned British soldier Richard Gaunt as he stumbles through a life that seems increasingly foreign to him. From the brutality and confusion, not to mention deep fear, that he encounters in Iraq, Richard returns to an England full of civilians who didn’t think he should have been sent overseas in the first place. Not only that but his relationship with his fiancee breaks down over their attempt to get into the restaurateur business … well to be more accurate, it breaks down over Richard’s inability to interact with civilians on a civilised level.
After an evening spent gambling at his card club with mates, Richard agrees to a bet to double his winnings by walking from London to Oxford in just under 12 hours. Perhaps his judgement was a little impaired, but he starts on his walk and not too much after dawn is knocked down by a black Land Rover. From there Richard’s life slides into the absurd as he is shut into the boot, driven to a secluded house, his injuries are treated and he’s fitted for a morning suit (read: English upper-class outfit to wear in the morning, as opposed to any other time of day). Turns out the enigmatic Mr Khan has kidnapped him, so that Richard can marry a cousin of his called Adeena.
Why doesn’t Richard question this before agreeing? Well therein lies the heart of the story. I think the author is making a point about the difficulty returned servicemen (and women, presumably) encounter when trying to “fit back in” to civilian life. In Richard’s case, the unreality of his daily life to him, made him ripe for involvement in the surrealist plots of Mr Khan.
The novel is gripping, thought-provoking, and easy to read. Although we may know in our heads, about post-traumatic stress, Paul Torday’s descriptions of how Richard is feeling are taken from real accounts and have a feel that to this author, it’s not just a story. I found it unsettling to think how little we know of what actions our governments may take in war theatres, and how little we understand what effect those actions have on our military personnel.
All that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if this book made its way into a film in the near future.
Available Now: Hachette RRP $49.99