Tuesday 17 May 2016

The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler

Jeannie is nineteen when the world changes, Kip only fourteen. The sudden accident that robs them of their mother leaves them adrift, with only their father to guide them. Jeannie seeks escape in work and later marriage to a man whose social connections propel her into an unfamiliar world of wealth and politics. Ill-equipped and unprepared, Jeannie finds comfort where she can. Meanwhile Kip's descent into a life of petty crime is halted only when he volunteers for the Marines.
By 1968, the conflice in Vietnam is at its height, and with the anti-war movement raging at home, Jeannie and Kip are swept along by events larger than themselves, driven by disillusionment to commit unforgiveable acts of betrayal that will leave permanent scars.
The Outside Lands is the story of people caught up in the slipstream of history, how we struggle in the face of loss to build our world, and how easily and with sudden violence it can be swept away. With extraordinary skill and accuracy, Hannah Kohler takes us from 1960s California to Vietnam, capturing what it means to live through historic times. This powerful debut novel announces Kohler as a remarkable new literary talent. 

The Outside Lands was published in hardback on 5 May 2016 by Picador and is Hannah Kohler's debut novel.

This is such an impressive novel, it is difficult to believe that The Outside Lands is a debut, and also that it is written by a young English woman who was born and brought up here and was born after the Vietnam war ended. This author catapults the reader bang into the heart of 60s California, her writing is powerful and authentic and her portrayal of both the conflict in Vietnam and those left behind is quite glorious.

The day that John F Kennedy was assassinated changed the world for most Americans, but for Jeannie and Kip it was also the day that their mother died when she absently-mindedly stepped into the road and knocked down.

Despite her father's assumption that she would take over the role of mother in the house, Jeannie takes a job as a waitress, and soon finds an admirer in Billy the student doctor. Even though they are from different social circles, this is the 60s and when Jeannie becomes pregnant, they marry. Meanwhile, Jeannie's younger brother Kip has gone off the rails, getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble until the day that the local judge gives him an ultimatum and her finds himself signed up to the Marines.

Kip is immature, he's rash and insensitive and his actions in Vietnam land him in deep trouble. Meanwhile, back in California, Jeannie has become infatuated with a young hippy anti-war protester called Lee and even though she now has a small child as well as a new husband, she too makes decisions that change her world once again.

Almost fifty years later, we all know that the conflict in Vietnam was pointless, a tragedy, a sham and Hannah Kohler has managed to express this into her words. Her writing is sensitive, but provocative and she masterfully conjures up images from that ravaged country that are quite haunting.

Relationships, betrayals, families; The Outside Lands captures all of these and more. I was hooked by the end of the very first chapter. Highly recommended, Hannah Kohler is an author to watch.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Hannah Kohler grew up on the south coast of England. After studying English and American Literature at Cambridge University, Hannah completed the City University MA in Creative Writing. 
She has worked in television for several years and lives in London.
The Outside Lands is her first novel.

You can find Hannah on Twitter at @hannahkohler


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