Thursday 31 March 2022

Metronome by Tom Watson #Metronome @t_m_watson @BloomsburyBooks @Ros_Ellis #BookReview


For twelve years Aina and Whitney have been in exile on an island for a crime they committed together, tethered to a croft by pills they must take for survival every eight hours. They've kept busy - Aina with her garden, her jigsaw, her music; Whitney with his sculptures and maps - but something is not right.

Shipwrecks have begun washing up, and their supply drops have stopped. And on the day they're meant to be collected for parole, the Warden does not come. Instead there's a sheep. But sheep can't swim.

As days pass, Aina begins to suspect that their prison is part of a peninsula, and that Whitney has been keeping secrets. And if he's been keeping secrets, maybe she should too. Convinced they've been abandoned, she starts investigating ways she might escape. As she comes to grips with the decisions that haunt her past, she realises her biggest choice is yet to come.

Metronome by Tom Watson was published in hardback by Bloomsbury on 31 March 2022 and is the author's debut novel. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Metronome is everything that I want from a book, this is most certainly going to be amongst my top books of this year. It is hauntingly beautiful, written with such precision and care. The premise is unusual and refreshing and the characters blaze gloriously from the pages. 

Aina and Whitney live in an isolated croft cottage on desolated island. They've been there for twelve years; exiled after committing a crime. Life is harsh on the island and is dictated by the pills that they must take every eight hours, in order to stay alive. They spent their time attending to the ground, attempting to grow food with regular exercise as well as an ancient jigsaw. Whitney is an artist and forms sculptures from material that he can salvage.

Other the. years, shipwrecks have washed up on the shore, empty with no sign of life and more recently, a sheep has appeared in their yard. Sheep can't swim, can they? Aina begins to suspect that Whitney knows more about their prison, is it really an island? How did the sheep get there, and why are pine needles matted in its fur? There are no pine trees on the island ... or are there?

Their parole is due and they expect the Warden to come and free them, but he doesn't appear and Aina takes matters into her own hands. She too can have secrets and she forms a plan that she cannot share with Whitney.

Metronome is beautifully written, with prose so lyrical and moving. The author captures the pure desolation of the landscape, with the weather playing such a large part in the story. There are passages that made me take such a deep breath, he describes the simple things, such as a candle being snuffed out with such care and precision - I could almost smell the molten wax as the flame fluttered and died. 

This is dystopian fiction at its best. Just like the great Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale, this author doesn't inform the reader of how the world becomes what it is in this story.  It takes some time before we learn what crime Aina and Whitney are guilty of, and when we realise, we see the horror that the world has become, it's so clever and so compelling, and nothing is as expected. 

This author is so talented, the way that the relationship between Aina and Whitney chop and change throughout the novel is done so very well. The claustrophobic feel of two people spending all of their time together, with no other human company is chilling,  and the little niggles of doubt and blame between them, that grow with an intensity throughout is impeccably handled. 

Metronome is the perfect title for this book. Aina often remembers the metronome that sat upon her piano in their previous life. The piano is central to the discovery of their 'crime' and their subsequent banishment to the island and it is a clever reminder of the time that ticks by between their eight hourly doses of medication. 

Metronome is an addictive and hugely compelling novel, I was totally enraptured by the characters and the plot. Things take an unexpected turn toward the end and the reader is left with a sense of both sorrow and hopeful joy. Original and intriguing and highly recommended by me. 

Tom Watson is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, where he was
the recipient of the Curtis Brown Prize in memory of Giles Gordon. 

His debut novel, Metronome, was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and his short fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize and awarded runner-up for the Seán Ó Faoláin Prize. 

He lives in London.

Twitter @t_m_watson

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