‘What happens when the dead refuse to leave the lives of the living?’ – The Loss Adjustor by Aifric Campbell

Aifric Campbell has created a Miss Havisham for the twenty-first century, a thirty-something woman who wants to protect herself against “the great rush of life… the wonder and variety of experience, as if it might be preferable to reach death without having lived at all.” Emotionally stranded in the past Caro, the loss adjustor of the title, has never moved on from the summer when she was fifteen and in the space of a few weeks her best friend, Estelle, is killed and in the aftermath the boy next door, Cormac, who is the love of her life moves away. Twenty years later and Cormac is a rock star while Caro’s life revolves around visiting a cemetery where she leaves gifts for Estelle’s ghost.

In the cemetery where she retreats into her past Caro meets Tom, an embittered widower estranged from his son. Tom, too, lives in the past, in the moment when he lost his son and in his boyhood during World War Two. They recognise each other as damaged people and it is Tom’s attempts to reconcile himself with his past that draws Caro out of her suspended life before she finds release in the form of another death: “It has always been time to leave the past and recover the present.”

As a loss adjustor (investigating insurance claims) Caro has “all the style of a seasoned undertaker”, not surprising for a teenager who saw her father die from a heart attack at the breakfast table and months later her dog committed suicide while looking straight at her. The dead are always with Caro and as the narrative moves between past and present, the past begins to overlap and overpower her present while the reader settles deeply into her consciousness. Few novels focus on a character as intelligent as Caro but the intelligence of Campbell’s writing, her understated ability to develop a character’s traits (and fears) so resonantly, makes this an involving read.

Aifric Campbell has studied psychotherapy but the power of this novel (and its creation of a truly lifelike central character) is not based entirely on her psychological strengths, it is Campbell’s precision of language. The novel is full of wonderfully expressed sentences, perfectly phrased and all in the service of expressing what a character feels, the lack of redundancy in her use of language has more in common with poetry than the average novel. It is a delight to read Campbell’s sentences, they have an impact and immediacy which creates Caro’s life among “the lagoons of the past”, and Aifric Campbell’s characterisation is of equal depth.

In other hands the themes of the novel, what happens when the dead refuse to leave the lives of the living, and when the living prefer to live with the dead, could be a disaster, the fictional equivalent of an agony aunt column. Instead it is a novel as good as anything likely to be published this year and the promise of Campbell’s future novels is something to look forward to.

Any Cop?: The articulacy and crafted impact of the writing, the understanding the reader takes away from its portrayal of a character of real depth, makes this exceptional.

 

James Doyle

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