Sunday, January 22, 2012
"To sleep: perchance to dream". What do you suppose would happen if you slept for fifteen years? What would you miss? What great events in the world would pass you by? What would happen to your coterie of friends? After all you wouldn’t be there to witness the many changes in their lives. How would your absence effect your family?
This is the premise for Peter Wild’s debut novel The Passenger, the story of Whitlow a man who falls asleep one night in Stockport city centre only to wake up fifteen years later to a world that has changed.
The Passenger begins with Whitlow waking up one morning surrounded by a bunch of teenagers one of whom throws a half eaten beef burger in his direction. He finds himself rescued by a woman, who unbeknownst to him, turns out to be his wife.
The woman, Ruth, with a baby in tow, bundles Whitlow into her car and takes him home where she feeds, washes and cares for him and re-introduces him once more to his family. She gives him a notebook, which is apparently written by Whitlow during periods when he was lucid and in the bosom of his family.
As he reads the notebook Whitlow learns that this is not the first time he has disappeared only to reappear disorientated and lost. Whitlow discovers that his disappearances began one night when he stormed out of the house he shared with his girlfriend Connie. In Stockport town centre he had an encounter with a bunch of drunken men and women one of whom flashed her breasts at Whitlow causing Whitlow to run in terror.
Council workers on a clean-up detail find him coiled up asleep beside a bridge. No matter how hard they try they are unable to wake him. A story about a sleeping man appears in the local newspaper about the sleeping man from where the story snowballs and endorsed by the local mayor Whitlow, for a while, become a tourist attraction.
Reading the notebook Whitlow discovers that he was part of a band called The Sleeping Men who, released three albums and were successful for a while. He discovers that he has a wife, children and a job at which he is successful.
One of the many strengths of The Passenger is that it is populated by believable characters. For example Stacy Shenanigan, she of the bared breasts, finds notoriety on the back of the story of Whitlow’s fame. She appears on page three, and later on for example, Celebrity Big Brother. Another character of note is Connie, Whitlow’s erstwhile girlfriend who launches a media career for herself and goes from regional reporter to presenter on just about every programme of note in America.
As the story unfolds Whitlow learns his history via the notebook and the novel is told in alternate chapters. We see Whitlow emerged from his most recent disappearance and in the following chapter the earlier Whitlow relating his story. This turns out to be a magical device and the reader can really relate to Whitlow as amidst his disorientation he slowly unearths his hidden story.
The Passenger by Peter Wild is flawless rock n roll of a novel, with references to The Smiths, The Fall and Talking Heads amongst others. Without doubt it will be the literary debut of the year.
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